Laurel nonprofit unites teachers, parents -- Gazette.Net


Laurel-based nonprofit Side By Side is teaching parents of first- and second-graders the ABCs of homework and collaboration.

The organization, which formed in 2009 and trains parents to help their children succeed in school, expanded to include first- and second-grade families this year, nearly doubling the size of its workshop series, said founder and director Joe Murchison

Murchison said the program is also incorporating a new evaluation system, which will emphasize parent-teacher partnership through setting goals and charting students’ progress.

Side By Side is scheduled to host 62 workshops at the six public elementary schools in Laurel this year, focused around topics like reading, math and behavior, he said.

“We decided two years ago to have workshops at each school and start out with kindergarten and pre-kindergarten parents, because you want to catch [the students] as early as possible,” he said. “Our long-term goal is to have workshops for every grade level.”

The new evaluation system, called Academic Parent Teacher Teams, involves using graphs to demonstrate a child’s reading and math skills and compare them to other students in the same grade. Parents are also required to create academic goals for their children and outline steps they will take at home to help meet those goals.

“It really does inform the parents where their child is in terms of basic skills,” Murchison said. “I think it just underlines their responsibility to help their children at home, to work with the teachers, to be full partners.”

Side By Side will be further expanding its workshop series by adding several sessions taught in Spanish, Murchison said.

County school board member Zabrina Epps (Dist. 1), who represents the Laurel area, said parental involvement will be especially important as schools incorporate the new Common Core curriculum standards and standardized tests.

“[The new standards] are change, and with change comes challenge,” she said. “To provide parents with a way of being engaged, particularly new parents of school-aged children, is very valuable because I think it helps them feel more confident about reinforcing the lessons [the students] learn in school.”

Lisa Hawkins, a kindergarten teacher at Deerfield Run Elementary School in Laurel, said she has been teaching parent workshops through Side By Side for three years.

“It boosts that teamwork feeling,” she said. “The parents who attend [the workshops] with their kids, we do see their children operating at a higher level in terms of reading and math.”

The Academic Parent Teacher Teams program allows parents to track their child’s progress in reading and math and set goals for the academic year, Hawkins said.

“It motivates [parents] to want their children to work harder,” she said. “These are the foundation skills they need. Those kids who don’t have that strong foundation in reading and math by third grade are known to struggle for the rest of their school careers.”