St. Helena school district forming ‘Parent Academy’

Parents of St. Helena Parish public school students will soon have a school of their own to attend.

Schools Superintendent Kelli Joseph and her staff are working to create a Parent Academy, where parents can learn more about meeting their children’s educational needs by taking classes, learning about student performance data and participating in various activities.

The academy, modeled on “parent universities” in other states and scheduled to open for the 2013-14 school year, will be “a more structured, organized way to get our families engaged in their children’s
educational careers,” Joseph said.

The academy will offer parents free courses that tie into their children’s educational stage and needs, such as helping high school parents learn how to fill out financial aid applications for college or helping elementary school parents understand and interpret student performance data in order to improve test scores.

The courses would be taught by teachers, college professors, business leaders in relevant industries such as banking and finance, and perhaps other parents with relevant skill sets, Joseph said. Classes would be available both on district campuses and in community locations, such as area churches.

“At the end of some of these courses, we want to provide incentives for the parents, such as scholarship opportunities for their children,” Joseph said.

One private scholarship fund available to district students already has been earmarked for this purpose, she said, and school officials are hoping to find other opportunities through area colleges and businesses.

“We also want to provide our parents an opportunity to sit with our teachers and go over student data so they can make better decisions at home and give them more resources,” Joseph said.

Other offerings would include family-oriented activities, such as self-defense classes taught by the Sheriff’s Office or health and wellness classes incorporating Zumba, she said.

Overhead for the academy is expected to be minimal, with facilities already available and instructors participating at little or no cost, Joseph said. Those costs could be covered through the district’s Title 1 parental involvement grants, she said.

“It’s a huge thing, but once we get it all lined up and ready to go, it will be a great opportunity for the community,” Joseph said. “Eventually, we want to offer this not just to the parents of our school children, but to all families in St. Helena Parish.”