Workshop equips parents to improve schools

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A small white building near the Tupelo Housing Authority office off North Green Street has been transformed into a book nook.
It holds a fresh coat of paint and hundreds of books. Every Thursday afternoon Alniece Liggins comes here to open this library of sorts and provide neighborhood children a quiet place to read.
“I’ve focused on helping them improve their reading because if you struggle to read, you will struggle with everything else,” said Liggins, who spearheaded the project to turn the former CATCH Kids clinic into a reading room.
The project stemmed out of Liggins’ attendance at last year’s Parent Leadership Institute. The institute, which is put on by Parents for Public Schools, educates parents about their schools, school governance, standardized test scores and many other topics. At the conclusion of the workshop’s three weekends, participants must then complete a project that directly benefits their school.
“I hope they take away a better understanding of how they can be advocates for their own children and for all children, understand how our school systems work and how they can help other parents and schools work to improve student achievement,” said Sally Gray, parent coach for Parents for Public Schools.
Liggins’s project is one of about 30 being undertaken in Northeast Mississippi schools as a result of participation in the institute. Parents have started science labs at their schools, instituted tutoring programs and held test-prep workshops.
“The projects are important, but to me, the more important thing is to develop parents as leaders and folks who influence other people,” Gray said.
Parents for Public Schools is a national organization based in Jackson that holds these institutes in various locations.
Tupelo’s third Parent Leadership Institute begins today at the Hancock Center. Although it is too late to join this year’s sessions, Gray said there will be future workshops held in Tupelo.
Liggins learned during last year’s institute about Tupelo’s poor reading and writing state test scores. That knowledge drove her to create the book nook as her project. Gray then pushed her to do more than she thought she could, she said.
“The Parent Leadership Institute was inspirational for me in gearing up for this project,” Liggins said. “I figured that if we can get to young people, it would help when they get to junior high and high school.”
Liggins is seeking community donations of prizes and other items as she gets the lab started. On Thursday, 13 students visited the nook, where they had quiet reading time and heard a story read to them by Ebony Hattix of the Tupelo Housing Authority.
Ragan Milner, who also participated in last year’s workshop, is partnering with fellow parent Nanette Shoemaker this year to install a new writing lab at Lawndale Elementary in Tupelo.
The lab will be geared toward preparing fourth-graders for the state writing tests. Fourth-graders will use the lab once each month, but there also will be activities for other students at the school, as well as visits by local writers.
The lab will have an informal, coffee-shop-style atmosphere and will be staffed by parent volunteers. Milner said that she sent a letter to parents asking for help in some form and received responses from 175 people.
“I was encouraged that so many parents in our school were interested in doing something,” Milner said.
She added that she would not have been able to start the writing lab without the lessons she learned during last year’s leadership institute.
“It gave me a better understanding of how parents and school leaders could work together to provide a better education for students,” she said. “…I have only been in Tupelo for four years. Through Parents for Public Schools, I was able to make connections at the school.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com