Parents learning how to advocate for their children’s education

A Baptist church in the heart of Scotlandville is trying to help 30 to 40 parents of children in five nearby public elementary schools become better advocates for their children’s education.

About 20 of them showed up Friday at Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 1414 Sora St., for a parent workshop. It is the first of many such gatherings the church plans over the course of the 2014-15 school year, which starts later this month.

Fifteen church “sisters” stood in the sacristy Friday, most of them current or former educators, promising to stay in constant contact with the parents.

“We think we have gathered the cream of the crop,” said Patsy Smith. “We think we are going to have a relationship that is second to none.”

Smith, whose day job is dean of students at University Terrace Elementary, is leading this effort along with her sister, Geraldine Roberts, a retired school administrator. Their sister, Joni Roberts, executive director for school leadership and instruction for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, is also involved.

The five targeted schools are Bakerfield, Brownfields, Crestworth, Progress and Ryan elementary schools. Bakerfield is part of the Baker city school system. The other four are part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school district.

Smith and Roberts said that in years past, the church had focused on getting children excited about going back to school, but the church organizers didn’t feel they were getting the support from parents needed to sustain such efforts.

The parent outreach is a pilot project the church hopes to expand in the future. The sisters also are planning to conduct a research project.

“We want to see what works,” Geraldine Roberts said.

Parent Monica Matthews took off work Friday in part so she could attend Friday’s workshop along with her youngest children, Albernique, 6, and Albryal, 7. They are advancing to the first and second grades at Brownfields Elementary this fall.

“I just need all the help I can get,” Matthews said.

Matthews said she or her sister are usually able to get to school events, but money is “really tight these days.”

“I’m interested in getting help with school supplies, uniforms, maybe if there’s tutoring available,” Matthews said.

Marlon Cousin, coordinator for parental involvement for the school system, and Mavis Lewis, a truancy officer with the school system, spoke to the parents.

Cousin outlined the many programs the school system has to offer. He said this is the first of many such gatherings he will speak at, as part of his annual “back to school” tour. On Saturday, he will be at the school system’s Back To School Expo at the Cortana Mall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cousin also urged parents to not be shy about pushing for the things they need for their children to succeed.

“Shake that tree,” Cousin said. “Make some things fall out of it.”

“Basically, they hit everything I was interested in,” said Lakeisha Varnado, who has three children, two attending Crestworth Elementary.

Three parents from Progress Elementary showed up, though two had to leave early.

LaShawn Stewart, principal of Progress Elementary, said she has 10 parents on board with the effort but most couldn’t make the workshop because it took place during working hours.

“I wanted parents who wanted to be more involved but didn’t know how to make that bridge,” Stewart said.

LaDarrion Jackson, principal of Ryan Elementary, said he’s gratified that Greater Mount Carmel is working with parents.

“So often we have to deal with things that have nothing do with teachers teaching and children learning, so this is refreshing,” Jackson said.

The superintendents of the Baker and East Baton Rouge Parish school systems — Ulysses Joseph and Bernard Taylor — also showed up at the church to offer their encouragement.

“Anything that we can do to make sure this is the success it is ordained to be, that we will do,” Taylor said.