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Pilot program to train Seattle parents for larger role at school

Many parents long for a greater role in their children’s schools, something beyond being asked to raise money. This year, through a grass-roots program modeled on a Chicago success story, about 20 moms and dads in Seattle will get that chance.

In Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood, many parents don’t speak English at home. Yet the local community association has trained hundreds to volunteer in their children’s schools, where they tutor kids in math and reading and, in the process, elevate their own career horizons. A number have gone on to become certified teachers.

Inspired by this model, Community & Parents for Public Schools, a local parent-involvement group, has wanted to bring it to Seattle for years, and recently secured $65,000 in grants to recruit and train at least 20 volunteers here.

The first 10 will be deployed at Seattle’s Dearborn Park International School later this fall.

“It will make a huge impact,” said Dearborn Principal Angela Sheffey Bogan. “Having more adults able to work with small groups of students will definitely help with academic achievement.”

Calculating the cost-benefit of such mentorship is not easy, but improved student attendance is clearly correlated with parent engagement, said Stephanie Alter Jones, executive director of the local community group.

On Monday, three of her members were in Chicago, learning how to recruit and train other parents. Those who then complete 100 hours at their designated school will earn a $500-$600 stipend.

“It’s a stipend, not a paycheck,” said Alter Jones. “It’s not a give-a-man-a-fish program. It’s a teach-a-community-to-fish type of program, and we really like that aspect.”

In Chicago, the Parent Mentor Program relies heavily on word-of-mouth, training one parent who recruits the next, and so on.

In 2013, Education Lab spotlighted this effort, which is in its 19th year and has recruited nearly 2,000 moms and dads to spend 10 hours a week in their children’s schools.

Since the mid-1990s when it began, Chicago’s Parent Mentor Program has spread to more than five dozen schools throughout Illinois.

Seattle’s pilot version received $50,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, plus another $15,000 from the Satterberg Foundation. Alter Jones aims to stretch that money over two years.

Beyond Dearborn Park, five other schools — all with high populations of Latino or Somali families — are under consideration for the second wave of parent mentors, expected to begin work in the spring.

“We are targeting schools with families who are learning about our school system and, often, are under-engaged,” Alter Jones said.

“The cost-benefit is potentially very good when we think about volunteers impacting a class full of kids, plus their own kids, plus their communities.”

Claudia Rowe: or 206-464-2531. On Twitter @RoweReport

Keywords: Angela Sheffey Bogan, chicago, community, Community & Parents for Public Schools, Dearborn, Dearborn Park, International School, Logan Square, parent engagement, parent mentor, parents, PEI, Principal, schools, Seattle

Posted in LSNA in the Media