Parent training sparks public school projects

By Chris Kieffer / NEMS Daily Journal

Count a science lab, a mentor program and a test-preparation workshop among the projects to emerge from a seminar that helps parents improve their schools.
“I’ve always been involved with the school,” said Jackie Gates of Houston, “but they really gave me materials and tools to utilize that I never knew about.”
Gates was referring to her experience in the Parent Leadership Institute, a seminar sponsored by Parents for Public Schools to get parents more involved in their local education systems.
Participants in the institute learn about ways to become more involved and then commit to undertake a two-year project at their schools. Two institutes have been held in Tupelo over the past two years.
In Gates’ case, she has teamed with Shenia Jones to begin a mentor program in the Houston School District. High school students meet twice a week with sixth-graders who are struggling academically to help with English, math and reading.
Like Gates, Barbara Carouthers participated in the fall 2009 institute. She has hosted several workshops at Okolona High School to help students prepare for the Algebra 1 state test.
Meanwhile, Andi Hildenbrand has teamed with Donna Watson to introduce a science lab to Lawndale Elementary. That lab is staffed by parent volunteers and aimed toward preparing fifth-grade students for the science state standardized test.
All students in the school visit the lab at least once a month, but the fifth-graders visit it twice. They listen to a lesson and participate in a variety of activities.
Participants in this past fall’s institute are still planning their projects but several ideas have emerged in the preliminary stages.
Lawndale parents Nanette Shoemaker and Ragan Milner are trying to start a writing lab at the third- to fifth-grade school that will model that science lab.
Marcela Cardenas wants to help Spanish-speaking elementary school parents better assist their children with homework.
Lori Grelen and Vafa Jamasbi are trying to expand the bridge-building program that has been so successful at Tupelo Middle School and bring it to Tupelo High.
“Going through the Leadership Institute,” Hildenbrand said, “reinforced my personal belief that we should be involved in our children’s education and that we can be more involved than sending them to school or going to PTO meetings.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or

– For more information about Parents for Public Schools or the Parent Leadership Institute, contact Sally Gray at sgray@parents4public or visit

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