Mayor Toni Harp offered words of praise to the attendees of Parent University for showing up despite the rain on Saturday.
About 200 parents, grandparents and guardians of New Haven Public School students arrived at Gateway Community College earlier that morning for a free series of workshops and discussion groups. This year — the fifth biennial citywide meeting of Parent University New Haven since its inception in 2012 — course offerings covered topics ranging from how to support children with learning disabilities to ways to talk to kids about sexuality.
“As we all know, kids don’t come with instruction books,” Harp said. “Often times, the school system also doesn’t come with instruction books, and that’s why we’re here — to help you better access resources with the Board of Education.”
Susan Weisselberg, chief of wraparound services for NHPS, said that organizers of Parent University choose the workshops based on feedback from parents and tried to touch on a holistic range of topics. Alicia Crichton and Robert Durand, both NHPS employees, focused some of their workshop — “Supporting Your Children’s Success in Math” — on everyday methods of engaging children with math, like using analog clocks in the house or having kids count coins.
In addition, Crichton and Durand touched on the Common Core learning principles of “Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract.”
“Especially with the new Common Core standards, there are a lot of different ways of teaching, particularly with math,” said Crichton, an Algebra II and geometry teacher at Wilbur Cross High School. “Having workshops where faculty can teach ways that parents and grandparents can help their children at home is very crucial.”
Weisselberg said that in addition to concerns about their children’s performance in academic subjects and their own understanding of the Common Core State Standards, many parents wanted to discuss how to finance their children’s college education and how to find the right university or college for them.
“It’s not just about the Common App,” said Weisselberg.
Parent University New Haven is a part of the district’s School Change Initiative, launched in 2011, which seeks to close the achievement gap, cut the dropout rate and boost the graduation rate among NHPS students.
In a speech to attendees, NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 emphasized the importance of community involvement on every level, extending from Harp’s offices to the families of New Haven students.
“In the last five years, we’ve raised graduation rates in New Haven Public Schools more than 12 percentage points,” Harries said. “But, as the mayor knows, too many of our kids are still not graduating in four years. Our academic and our reading levels are still not high enough.”
Weisselberg estimated that about half of the parents attending this year were returning participants and said that Parent University is integral to engaging NHPS families with the school system. NHPS encourages parents to attend meetings for the Citywide Parent Leadership Team, a parental advisory board to the district, Weisselberg said.
Parent University New Haven is modeled off a similar program in Boston, Mass.