Parents get schooled

At workshops, grownups learn how to teach children to read

Amy Haag, center, was among the parents who attended a recent "Reading and Math Strategies" workshop at Alta Vista Elementary School. PHOTOS/THOMAS BENDER

Amy Haag, center, was among the parents who attended a recent "Reading and Math Strategies" workshop at Alta Vista Elementary School. PHOTOS/THOMAS BENDER

SARASOTA – A teacher for 30 years, Donna Yarid does not mince words.

If a student gets to her third-grade class reading at a first-grade level, chances are slim that they’ll catch up in time to pass standardized tests in March.

To help kids succeed, Alta Vista Elementary is harnessing the power of parents. About a dozen of them sat in too-small, blue chairs on a recent Thursday evening. Knees knocking against the tops of desks, they listened as Yarid gave them tips and tricks for helping their kids at home in a “Reading and Math Strategies” workshop.

Like any good teacher, she peppered the class with, “Any questions?”

This is just one of several classes parents can choose from. In neighboring rooms, others learned about topics including budgeting and nutrition, or took English as a second language. The weekly workshops are part of Parent University, a mandatory component of Alta Vista’s Eagle Academy summer program.

Eagle Academy is free and available to students entering kindergarten through third grade at Alta Vista. Families who register must agree to attend Parent University for an hour once a week throughout the seven-week program.

Now in its fifth year, test scores show that Eagle Academy students avoid summer learning loss and exhibit higher rates of reading proficiency. In 2014, the school tested first-graders in reading; students who did not attend Eagle Academy saw their reading proficiency scores plummet from 71 to 49 percent over the summer, while participating students displayed learning gains.

Principal Barbara Shirley credits a lot of Eagle Academy’s success to the program’s focus on parent engagement.

“Kids see their parents coming to school, too, and they love it,” Shirley said, adding that since Eagle Academy began in 2012, attendance has improved during the school year. “It gets the kids excited about coming to school and really shows them the importance of education.”

Yarid’s workshop was suggested by parents themselves. The first night, it was standing-room only.

“When we have supportive parents reinforcing concepts at home, the children really benefit,” said Yarid, who has taught at Alta Vista for three years.

Amy Haag’s son is entering third grade. He’s a math whiz, but was held back in the first grade after falling behind in reading. Her son now earns awards for reading, but Haag said she signed up for Yarid’s workshop because every little bit she can do helps him even more.

Yarid walks parents through the “Five Finger Rule.” Open a book to any page and ask your child to read, put up a finger every time he or she doesn’t know a word. More than five fingers up before the end of a page means the book is likely too difficult.

They also learn about the power of “yet.” Yarid tells parents that they should tell their struggling kids, “You might not be able to read this yet, but you’ll get there soon.”

Any questions?