City holds second Parent University

Forty-seven workshops were held as part of Parent University on Satur- day at Gateway Community College.
Forty-seven workshops were held as part of Parent University on Satur- day at Gateway Community College. Photo by Rosa Nguyen.

To promote the Elm City’s college-going culture, nearly 200 parents enrolled in “Parent University,” a semiannual program intended to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education.

New Haven parents gathered at Gateway Community College this Saturday to attend the program, which consisted of a college fair and 47 workshops aimed at life enrichment and academic and behavioral support. Parent University began as a part of the city’s School Change Initiative, a campaign launched in 2009 aimed at raising student test scores, increasing graduation rates and promoting college attendance.

“Parent University empowers mothers and fathers and grandparents to help their children be successful in life,” said Reginald Mayo, superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, in a press release. “Bringing a college focus to Parent University gives parents the tools and the knowledge to support their children — from kindergarten through high school — on the path to college.”

The program is loosely based on the Boston public school system’s Parent University, which Susan Weisselberg, chief of the New Haven Wraparound Services department for troubled youth, attended in May 2012. While the Boston program provided a useful model, Weisselberg said New Haven’s Parent University has “more community engagement,” not only drawing support from the New Haven Public Schools system but also from local organizations such as Boost!, New Haven Promise and United Way of Greater New Haven. Workshop ideas were solicited from the Citywide Parent Leadership Team, a group of New Haven parents who set monthly agendas on behavioral and academic issues.

Following the first Parent University in November, this season’s Parent University included workshops that focused on college preparation, family and community, academic resources for children in early childhood and support for kindergarten through 12th grade students. Offered in both English and Spanish, courses varied from “Supporting Your Child’s Success in Math” — an interactive seminar in which parents learned skills such as how to use a protractor — to panel discussions in which college admissions officers revealed their requirements for potential applicants.

Abbe Smith, director of communications for New Haven Public Schools, said Elm City’s Parent University is unique because of its focus on both student support and enriching the lives of parents.

“A stronger parent means a stronger family, a stronger student and ultimately a stronger community,” Smith said.

In addition to four workshop sessions, parents had the option of visiting a college fair with representatives from 29 colleges, including Trinity College, Providence College and Wesleyan University. Anthony Carberry, associate director of admissions at Central Connecticut State University, said he was unaccustomed to the limited amount of activity at the college fair.

“With all of the workshops going on, the college fair’s been kind of slow,” Carberry said. “But it’s a good thing that there’s so much going on. This is the best setup.”

Parents also had access to community resource tables, which advertised services such as Planned Parenthood and New Haven Promise, an organization granting scholarships to New Haven youth. Eleven parents interviewed expressed satisfaction with Parent University, saying that the workshops were “informative.” New Haven parent Jennifer Sanders said she would like this event to be “more frequent.” Kim Jackson, another parent attendee, said she would like Parent University to be a two-day event, allowing parents to attend more workshops.

Brett Rayford, who headed one of Parent University’s most popular workshops, “Addressing the Needs of Urban Boys,” also expressed a desire for a longer session with parents.

“There’s so much information that this could be a four-hour presentation,” Rayford said.

Weisselberg said Parent University will expand its programs to include smaller-scale, neighborhood workshops in the future.

“Boston’s [Parent University] has neighborhood [workshops]. It’s very powerful to [have a Parent University] on a citywide basis, but we could reach more parents on a neighborhood basis,” Weisselberg said.

While parents attended Parent University, about 150 children participated in the corresponding “Youth University” at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. Activities included a fossil exhibit from the Peabody Museum, Latin dance classes and Ranger Ray, a reptile-toting employee from the New Haven Parks and Recreation Department.

“I can’t think of a better and more enriching way for a kid to spend a Saturday,” said Laoise King, United Way’s vice president of Education Initiatives.

The New Haven Public School Department will host its next citywide Parent University in fall 2013.

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