Daily activities become lessons

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Through Scaling Up Best Practice, parents at Perez, Pickard and Orozco schools attend workshops tied to classroom work, test-taking or special school projects.

During one workshop in December, parents learned how to make books to prepare them to help their children enter the Young Authors’ Competition, which involves writing and creating a homemade book.

Elaine Ratajczak, who conducts workshops at Pickard, explained to parents, as they composed stories, that the exercise also helps kids prepare for exams. “Many times on [tests], kids will get a prompt to write. This is a fun activity to get them started.”

Workshops also show how to turn everyday encounters into lessons and encourage children’s analytical thinking. For instance, parents are told to pepper their children with questions while reading a story, such as “What do you think happens now? Who do you think lives in that castle?”

“Asking questions prepares them for when teachers ask them questions,” says Cris Whitehead, director of parent engagement for Strategic Learning Initiatives and a former local school council chair of Saucedo Scholastic Academy.

Because parents usually have children in more than one grade, workshops are not grade-specific and use techniques that can be modified to fit all ages, such as word games that can be changed by using vocabulary appropriate to a child’s grade level.

Parent Theresa Gonzales says the workshops showed her how to help her nephew as well as her own child. Her nephew, a student at Pilsen Academy, was preparing for the school’s science fair, so Gonzales showed him how to do an experiment demonstrating how ice melts at different speeds in salt water and fresh water. The youngster won first place.

“I taught him the procedures, how to time it, present it and speak to a judge. My sister asked me how I knew so much,” Gonzales says, with a laugh.

Another parent says the workshop helped boost her own confidence.

“I’ve always had a problem with math. And sentences with the problems—I’m lost,” says Carol Segovia. “I’m someone who has never done division in my entire life, but I did it. And I had fun.”

At the beginning of each year, parents fill out a survey indicating what they’d like to learn for the upcoming year. This year, parents in the Pilsen network asked for a workshop on U.S. history.

“Many of our parents are newcomers,” says Ratajczak. “At 5th grade many of their kids are starting to study history, and when their kids ask questions, they don’t know enough to help them.

Parents really want to help their kids, but they need help doing it.”

To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or send an e-mail to williams@catalyst-chicago.org.