When Little Elementary School kindergarten teachers talk with parents, they don't shy away from using words like schema, metacognition and phonemic awareness — and it doesn't take long for parents to realize elementary school isn't quite what it used to be.
It's 2019, and Jeffco educators believe family engagement is more important than ever, serving as a tool to help parents understand how the academic landscape has changed for every student in every grade.
That's why the schools have launched new strategies, like RISE nights. The events take place in seven Jeffco schools and are somewhat similar to parent-teacher conferences, though schools typically use them in addition to conferences and not as a replacement, said RISE coordinator Susie Kirvin.
Instead of teachers and parents meeting one-on-one, at RISE, all parents from the same grade go to class together, where their students' teachers provide more information on how students are being taught certain skills. Teachers also give parents activities or games to play with their child at home to bolster what they're learning in the classroom.
“In the past, I've had a lot of questions (from parents) about math and how we teach it. When it's one-on-one, we've got 10 or 15 minutes,” said second grade teacher Nicole Atkins. “This gives them a chance to see some of that language, and that's a big part of understanding it.”
Parent Stephanie Bennetts, who has a kindergartener, second-grader and fifth-grader at Little, agreed that RISE has been a great opportunity to learn new strategies for home.
“My kids are always coming home saying they know things because of the schema they're learning. Education is more about independent thinking now,” she said. “We're understanding how our kids are being taught so we can help them more easily.”
Another important piece of RISE is the data analysis portion, in which parents study test scores for their student and compare it to the grade level average.
“We will send data home, but that doesn't always mean parents feel comfortable interpreting that,” Atkins said. “Being able to talk with other parents about it as well as look at the whole grade level helps them say, `maybe I need to be practicing this at home.'”
RISE began at Little in 2018, first brought to the school by principal Julie Waage, who coordinated the event with the help of Kirvin, family liaison Cathy Paxton and many other staff members, she said.
At the Oct. 24 RISE night, an estimated 388 parents and children were in attendance, Waage said.
RISE primarily operates in Title I schools, or schools that have a high percentage of low-income families and therefore receive additional federal funding. Little Elementary was formerly a Title I school but has since had a shift in status.
Even so, when Waage stepped into her role at Little as principal, she could tell RISE was “what's right for our families,” she said. “They wanted to learn more about the academic piece, and family engagement is a huge part of this community.”
Bennetts also highlighted the family engagement element, not only for the way it connects parents with teachers but also for the way it allows parents to connect with one another.
“We're interacting with the other parents, and it's an opportunity to get to know them,” she said. “It's a great way for families to be welcomed in.”
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