Parents respond well to new district program

Farmington schools initiative encourages parents to become more involved in education of their children

Mike Easterling
Mesa View Middle School Vice Principal David Gardner communicates with his staff Thursday at his school in Farmington.
  • The program was introduced in the district in August and has graduated its first group of parents.
  • Mesa View Middle School Assistant Principal David Gardner is one of the program's organizers.
  • Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch founded the program and has taken it nationwide.

FARMINGTON — Even though he was pleased with the way the Farmington Municipal School District's Family Engagement Initiative played out over its first several months, David Gardner knows the program's success will be measured by how effective it is over the long haul at persuading parents to take a more active role in the education of their children.

The initial returns were very encouraging. Of the 32 parents of district students who signed up for a series of Family Leadership Institute workshops last fall, 30 of them completed the training, said Gardner, the assistant principal at Mesa View Middle School and a program organizer.

The parents, collectively known as Cohort 1, went through seven weekly sessions and a total of 10 lessons designed to give them the tools, knowledge and inspiration to help their children be successful in school and life, according to Gardner.

"The parents who have been in Cohort 1 are those who already tend to be involved in their children's education," he said. "Where it's really going to start having the biggest impact is with parents who normally wouldn't be involved. Making them get involved is how we'll build this program. The goal is for the parents eventually to take over the program themselves and run it."

Students head to class during a passing period Thursday at Mesa View Middle School in Farmington, one of the pilot schools included in the district's new Family Engagement Initiative.

So Gardner couldn't help but be a tad disappointed on Feb. 15 when only about 40 people showed up at the Farmington Public Library to attend a meeting designed to introduce more district parents to the program and convince them to sign up for Cohort 2. That total was considerably smaller than the nearly 100 people who filled two rooms at the Sycamore Park Community Center in August for the program's kickoff meeting.

A total of 18 parents signed up for Cohort 2 after the February meeting, but supporters of the program weren't satisfied with that number. Gardner said a multi-faceted approach was employed to beef up that figure, an effort that included one-on-one recruiting by some of the parents in Cohort 1 and phone alerts in Spanish and English to parents via the district's robocall system.

When the first Cohort 2 workshop was held at the library on Feb. 22, 55 parents showed up — nearly twice as many as the number of parents who signed up for Cohort 1.

Family Leadership Institute founder Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, left, talks with Susana Jacquez, Esperanza Elementary first-grader Othoniel Oñate and his mother, Anneyde Soto, in August during a meeting at the Sycamore Park Community Center.

If the program can sustain numbers like that, it will be in good shape, said Gardner, who taught at Tibbetts Middle School before moving to Mesa View five years ago. Both schools feature a student population with a high poverty rate, he said, and Gardner long ago became interested in exploring how students emerging from such a background can close the achievement gap.

He has become a strong believer in the district's program, an offshoot of the national program established by retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch, who spoke at the early meetings.

"This is something brand new," Gardner said of the district's program. "We have tried bits and pieces at different schools over the years, but never the entire package on a district level."

The program workshops are led by four facilitators trained at FLI headquarters in Las Vegas, Nev. — Gardner, Farmington High School Assistant Principal Kristi Burns, and Osvaldo Avila and Carolyn Martinez of San Juan College's Engaging Latino Communities for Education program. That group is augmented by five assistant facilitators who have undergone similar training, are the parents of district students and served as members of Cohort 1

Those facilitators and assistant facilitators lead weekly 90-minute sessions at the library that cover the FLI curriculum. The first session was held on Feb. 22, and the second workshop is planned for Wednesday. The sessions continue through April 19, capped by a parent graduation ceremony.

The events begin at 5 p.m. with food and child care provided. The workshops themselves are taught from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Gardner described them as highly interactive in nature, with participants often called upon to share their own experiences.

"Each of the modules is designed to teach the family everybody is different," he said. "You can create your own future by taking care of your family."

RELATED: Farmington parents urged to be more active in education

Gardner said one of the more important elements of the curriculum is the family action plan that each participant is asked to craft. Those plans are not shared with the class, but parents are required to create them as part of the process of making practical use of the things they have learned during the workshops.

Assistant facilitator Lindsay Morales, the mother of five district students who range from elementary to high school age, said she emerged from the process believing she had become part of a support group.

"I really loved how it had a lot on leadership — not just a leadership they've defined, but finding a leadership system within ourselves," she said.

For more information about the program, call Gardner at 505-599-8622, extension 2903.

Mike Easterling covers education, the environment and health for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.