A group of teachers and administrators went to the P-3 Governor’s Institute last summer that focused on P-3 collaboration: Working together for student success. The P-3 stands for pre-school to third grade.

The three-day event enabled them to identify needs and strengths specific to their school, Brookville Principal Ruthanne Barbazzeni said. The team identified the school’s strongest need as parent involvement and parent connections. Then they were asked to figure out how they would meet the need if they had all the tools. This started the team thinking of how they would connect the community with the school.

Barbazzeni said many parents are reluctant to get involved or are possibly intimidated for whatever reason. The team had to think of a way to break through such barriers and fuel more communication between the school district and parents.

In three days the team identified the most important need, developed a strategy to meet that need and began planning for its implementation. Donuts & Dialog was born.

The program

Donuts & Dialog provides an informal, relaxed atmosphere for parents come to the school and meet with teachers and principals. They can discuss concerns they have and share information about what’s going on in their lives that may make being involved during a school day difficult. Teachers can share what is going on in the classrooms.

Barbazzeni said she along with the teachers each shared their personal backgrounds. But then they opened the floor to discussion with the parents because they wanted to “talk with” them and not “at” them.

Some of the topics have been how to help a student at home with the “new” math or whether a parent should push to finish homework or not pressure the student. They’ve also discussed attendance issues as well as school and state rules, and how to promote anti-bullying.

Barbazzeni notes that it has been a slow process. There were a handful of parents at the first one and two handfuls at the next one. Each session has grown as word spreads and parents understand what these sessions are all about.

The parents are surveyed as to time of day for the session and topics of discussion. So far it’s been all positive feedback, Barbazzeni says. There is even interest in the school holding some mini workshops for parents on topics such as helping their student with math or learning what students are doing in third grade.

The next Donuts & Dialog will be in April, right after Easter.

The underlying theme is the parents and the school working together for the student’s success. But the connection doesn’t stop with just the school and the parents.

Connecting parents
to community agencies

Another phase of the project is to connect the community with the parents and the schools, especially the service agencies. Barbazzeni noted that teachers are usually more acquainted with these community agencies. The schools can connect with the service agencies and parents can connect with schools. This enables teachers to make parents aware of agencies whose services they may need. In the long run it all supports the student and helps them be successful.

Third phase
– transitioning students

A third phase of supporting students’ success is in helping them transition from one grade level to the next.

The district successfully does so with students entering high school. Older students at the high school are matched up with incoming eighth grade students. They are referred to as Bigs and the younger students as Buds. Students receive a copy of their schedule and are able to do a trial run to each of their scheduled classes to know where those classrooms are located, how to traverse from class to class, and meet the teacher in each room. Thus they can connect the room to the subject taught and the subject to the teacher, Barbazzeni says.

Pairing the younger kids up with an older student also means they always have someone to ask questions of and who is looking out for them. On the flip side, the older students need to always be good role models for the younger students.

That success had Barbazzeni thinking of using the program in P-3 grades as those students transition into a new school buildings. Instead of taking weeks to acclimatize to a new school building the student could instead concentrate on their academics. To that end, the district literally shows them the differences and what the expectations may be in the new grade level/school thereby making students feel comfortable from day one.

Since the elementary to high school works so well, the district decided to do the same in the elementary schools from one building level to another, Barbazzeni said. Preschool is at Pine Creek Elementary and kindergarten is at Northside Elementary. So preschool students were invited to come to Northside before the school year began to meet teachers and see the school. Barbazzeni noted that they made it a fun day for the students. They repeat this “bridge” for kindergarten students returning to Pine Creek for first grade, for second graders at Pine Creek going to third grade at Hickory Grove Elementary.

The district began these “transitions” last summer and they were a great success. The events were social and fun with games and snacks, tours of the school, and getting acquainted with the teachers. So how did it affect the first day of school last fall. Barbazzeni says the first day went very smooth. It wasn’t traumatizing to the students as going into a new school can be for young children.

Barbazzeni noted that a goal of the program is to keep the base of parent involvement with their student going at the high school level once it’s begun at the elementary level. She said it’s important for parents to be part of the child’s education. By providing encouragement and holding students accountable they are assisting in the longterm goal of helping students to become good citizens, to learn to work together, to use their own initiative, to take responsibility and have a strong work ethic.

While the program is just getting started, sustaining may be difficult. The team was able to get a one-time $10,000 grant that paid for substitute teachers to free up the K-3 teachers to take part in the Donuts and Dialog with parents. The money also went for invitation materials and, of course, donuts. Barbazzeni said the largest cost is paying for the substitute teachers. She says the Donuts and Dialog program will need about $6,000 and the transition events about $1,000 total for all the levels combined. While the district is brainstorming how to come up with the amounts, Barbazzeni noted she would not say no if a business wanted to help sponsor the program. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce so it is actually an investment for business and industry as much as it is for the school district.

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