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Parents Graduate From New Education Engagement Program

Sunshine Gardens Elementary School commemorated the first graduating class of its School Smarts Parent Academy.

Parents celebrated their commitment to children’s education and the future of the Thursday as they became the first graduating class of the 's School Smarts Parent Academy.

The pilot program, which is currently being tested in 23 California schools, congratulated 29 graduates in its first year at Sunshine Gardens.

“I believe in the mission of educating the stakeholders,” said Marta Bookbinder, PTA president.

The seven-session weekly program, funded by a grant from Hewlett-Packard, aims to educate parents about their role in their child’s education and ways in which parents can engage with the school system. Facilitator Michelle Acuña taught the program.

Parents learned how to navigate the school system, gained leadership skills and learned procedures to create action in a school system.

“Every parent needs to be an advocate for their child,” Bookbinder said.

The School Smarts Parents Academy launched in California two years, and , and Skyline Elementary School participated in the first year. Sunshine Gardens joined this year.

According to Bookbinder, the program is especially innovative due to the ability to break language barriers. The program was translated into Spanish and Cantonese for parents who have a desire to be active in their children’s education but in the past had been inhibited.

“They have completely projected inclusiveness,” Bookbinder said. “The crucial thing to consider is parents wanted to be involved but they didn’t know how and weren’t given the opportunities.”

Bookbinder estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the graduates from the Sunshine Gardens Parent Academy are Spanish speakers.

Graduate Luisa Ortega spoke through the translation of Bookbinder about the empowerment of the program.

“It helped me especially at the moment I wanted to ask questions and wanted to be heard,” she said.

Ortega has one child preparing for college and another in elementary school. The program, she said, provided her with vital information on how to best impact both children during such formative years.

“I can motivate and push my children,” Ortega said.

Hugo Gomez, vice president of the Sunshine Gardens PTA, participated in the program with his wife, Norma Gomez-Hernandez.

“More parents have been more vocal,” Gomez said.

Gomez, the father of two Sunshine Gardens students, said networking with other parents helps create a unified foundation.

“I like to be able to get to know the other parents,” he said. “The program makes you feel a part of the education.”

But Gomez’s ultimate goal, he said, is ensure the best academic experience possible for his children.

“I want them to succeed,” he said. “That would be my satisfaction.”

Fifth grader Carlos Mendez, 10, said he was proud as he watched both of his parents graduate from the program.

“They’ll help me and get me to college,” he said.

Carlos is an aspiring scientist and said his parents hope to see him graduate from college.

His parent’s interest in his education, he said, keeps him on track.

“If they didn’t care I probably wouldn’t even go to school,” Carlos said. “I would just ditch.”

According to evaluations made by the California State PTA, 85 percent of Parent Academy participants have said their knowledge of the school system and how they can help their children increased dramatically and 80 percent of participants said they were more likely to take action and become more involved in their child’s school.

As Bookbinder congratulated the graduates, she said their devotion to education would continue through to the next generation.

“Look at your children looking at you,” she said. “This is the best example you can set.”

Principal Ifeoma Obodozie welcomed the graduates to utilize their newfound knowledge with the school.

“It took a lot for you to step forward and say, 'Teach me how to be a part of my child’s education,'” she said. “It’s my hope and encouragement to you to continue that participation.”

With the success of the program, there is hope that the vision of inclusivity and proactive community engagement may continue as the program is employed throughout California, said California PTA President Carol Kocivar.  

“We created the Parent Academy to make sure parents all over California have the skills, desire and passion to continue improving the lives of children,” Kocivar said.

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