X

DeKalb schools offer help to students’ best helpers: parents

Katrina Parker, 40, of Decatur, Ga., reads from a textbook during a class at the Family IMPACT Hub in Stone Mountain, Ga., on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. The Family IMPACT Hub (“Involving and Motivating Parents to be Active Contributors over Time”) offers a free GED certificate program for parents and guardians of current DeKalb County School District students. CASEY SYKES / FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)
Katrina Parker, 40, of Decatur, Ga., reads from a textbook during a class at the Family IMPACT Hub in Stone Mountain, Ga., on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. The Family IMPACT Hub (“Involving and Motivating Parents to be Active Contributors over Time”) offers a free GED certificate program for parents and guardians of current DeKalb County School District students. CASEY SYKES / FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

When Katrina Parker passes her GED exam this fall, it will be the culmination of a nearly 25-year educational hiatus she began after dropping out as a teenager to raise her first child.

This spring, the 40-year-old said a note on a bulletin board — touting a free program for DeKalb County School District parents to earn their GED — told her what she had sacrificed to raise her children could now be realized.

“I chose to raise my child, to step back and be a full-time parent,” said Parker, whose youngest child is a senior at Miller Grove High School.

The GED program is one of many being offered to DeKalb parents through the Family IMPACT (Involving and Motivating Parents to be Active Contributors over Time) Hub, a first-of-its-kind, one-stop-shop for "wraparound" social services in metro Atlanta designed to provide support to parents. While parents and families benefit directly from the Hub's offerings, the district's aim is to impact the student's success.

“Our children are struggling because our families are struggling,” said Marcia Coward, the district’s family engagement program manager. “So how do we impact the whole child?

The question is answered many ways through the Hub. Spearheaded by the district’s Department of Parent and Family Engagement, the Hub provides families with services that allow them to focus on a child’s success. One day recently, officials were discussing an upcoming domestic violence workshop. They help parents find jobs and help with time and money management, food and clothing donations, even child care. Parents come to the Hub as students, tutors and workers for community programs providing other parents services.

For years, educators and education experts have pointed to increased parental engagement as a positive factor in student achievement. In school districts such as DeKalb, where the majority of students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, parent involvement is a low priority as work schedules are often a hindrance. Coward said the services offered through the Hub seek to relieve some of the daily pressures — or remove some obstacles — and encourage parents to participate more actively in a child's education.

“The struggles of life are real,” Coward said. “We have realized there were other needs, because parents are not created equal.

“What we knew up front was that parents want what’s best for their child.”

The Hub targets parents because, among other things, a parent’s mindset also influences a child’s. When Parker put education on the back burner for herself, it deprioritized school’s importance for her family. None of her children so far has graduated from high school. She moved to Decatur from Alabama several years ago after both her parents and a sibling died. The move, she said, was a fresh start. Her daughter, who struggled socially in Alabama, has thrived in the DeKalb school district. There’s a level of support here that she was not getting previously, Parker said. The teen is on course to be the first in her family to receive a diploma.

“She’s encouraging me,” Parker said, adding that they can now help each other with homework.

“No matter what we do in the Hub, it’s around the impact on these children,” Coward said.

Twenty students started in the GED program's first class, each with his or her unique deficiencies and life hurdles. Many needed pacing that could help them better retain the information. Some needed help around their work hours. Some did not speak English as a first language, a frequent hurdle in a district where many of the 100,000 students are immigrants and refugees. Classes meet Mondays and Wednesdays for two hours, with morning and evening times to fit busy schedules.

Monday evening, seven students gathered at a conference table and thumbed through GED study guides, with so many pages they easily remind one of old phone books.

“Drives his girlfriend crazy,” Narva Dunlap, a family engagement specialist, read to the students. “Is that a complete sentence or a fragment?”

Fragment.

“Why is that a fragment?”

It is missing a subject.

As the number of participants grow, students are grouped based on need and separated into different classes. That evening, two math classes also were taking place at the Hub. More than 500 people expressed interest when the fall GED program was announced.

“All the parents have different starting places,” Dunlap said. “No matter what your needs are, we try to meet you. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes one to raise our families.”

Parker’s starting assessment earlier this year showed her math comprehension at a fifth-grade level. A recent assessment showed that improved in less than six months to 11th grade and eight months. Recently, she completed a GED practice test with a passing grade at the minimum passing threshold, but is continuing the tutoring sessions at DeKalb’s Family IMPACT Hub to build on that score. She’s already taking dual-enrollment courses at Georgia Piedmont Technical College and plans to get a psychology degree from Georgia State.

“When we first started, I felt so stupid,” she said. “I didn’t think I would be this far this soon. What I don’t know, there’s someone here to help. Now, I’ve got a goal, and I’m so grateful for the second chance.

“I did not even see this happening for me last year.”