August 21, 2008

‘Partners’ Go With Kids on 1st Day of Classes

By Phyllis Coulter

NORMAL - Second-grader Samantha Hill, wearing a pretty dress, waited with her mom for the school bus on Wednesday.

What made her story a little different from almost 13,000 other Unit 5 students attending their first day of school? Her mom, Lashaw Brown, got on the bus, too, and together they went to Glenn Elementary School as part of a new program for parents.

As soon as the bus arrived - driven by physical education teacher Colleen Moore and escorted by speech teacher Vickie Mahrt - Samantha joined her class and her mom joined a dozen other parents in the new Parents as Partners program. "We always talk about how to increase parent involvement because it is related to student achievement," Moore said.

Parents as Partners welcomes parents who might not otherwise see their children in class, said Principal Carmen Bergmann. Some parents don't have transportation and others didn't have a great experience with schools; the program gives them an opportunity to attend in a welcoming atmosphere, she said.

For Alison Oliver of Normal, who works two jobs, it is tough to get to the school. "I won't get here anytime soon," she said. "I wanted to take this opportunity."

Her daughter, Kelise Johnson, 7, told her mom about the newly renovated school: "There are new colors, and new desks .... and carpet all over the room," she said with bright eyes and big smile.

Brown could have driven, but appreciated the opportunity to ride the school bus. "I can save some money," she said after sharing her daughter's first school bus ride.

Last year, Samantha walked to Stevenson Elementary. The family previously lived in Chicago.

The visiting Glenn parents saw a new playground, ate lunch with their children and received a donated bag of groceries to take home.

About 30 parents were invited to the first-time event. Fewer than half attended, but Bergmann hopes more attend future events. It helps children to see their parents in the classroom, Bergmann said. "Some (children) feel education is not a priority because it doesn't feel that way at home," she said.

Glenn, Towanda and Oakdale elementary schools were renovated this year as part of the district's $96.7 million construction plan. Construction continues at other older schools next year; the multi- year project includes building three schools by the end of 2011.

Kesia Stevens of Normal got up at 6:30 a.m. to bundle up her two- week-old baby and her toddler so they could see Khvaiah, 5, start kindergarten after seeing second-grader, David, 7, get on the bus.David - who was to attend Glenn for the first time this year - accidentally went to Pepper Ridge Elementary instead. He was reunited with his mom and sisters in time for lunch.

Despite the mix-up, Stevens said she was pleased with the day.

"I think it's good to meet all the teachers and mingle with different parents," she said.



Notes from the first day in Unit 5 schools:- Almost 13,000 students attended half-day programs.- 9,000 students rode 126 buses to district schools.- At least one bus had a breakdown (at Glenn Elementary); it was quickly replaced and students arrived home on time.- Kindergarten, first and second grades all top 1,000 students for the first time. Last year, only kindergarten classes reached that mark.- First-day snags: Unit 5 spokeswoman Dayna Brown said, "You always have challenges on the first (day) of school. There are some growing pains. You make sure tomorrow is a better day."

(c) 2008 Pantagraph. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.