Saturday, September 27, 2003

New school lunch program: Staff visits parents' homes

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

ERLANGER - It may seem odd for your child's school principal and counselor to show up at your home for lunch on a school day.

But these are new administrators from Miles Elementary School in Erlanger, where helping students and families can come in unusual ways.

"I took a class at Xavier University where the instructor said we need to get outside the box," said first-year principal Bryant Gillis. "When I took this job, one of the things I wrote down was to do this."

Gillis, first-year counselor Mary Beth Hall and eight parents gathered Friday for sandwiches and chips in the living room of Randy and Kathy Blankenship in a unique effort to bridge the gap between schools and families.

The 45-minute meeting gave the parents a chance to express their compliments and concerns directly to Gillis and Hall in a setting outside the school.

The Blankenships hosted the first of what will be a monthly meeting involving a different host family and different parents each time.

"We're real interested in what is going on in the school," said Randy Blankenship, whose son is in the fifth grade. "If this is something they're going to do to reach out to parents, we want to be a part of it."

The parents told Gillis they appreciate that teachers are outside to greet the kids each morning. They also expressed concerns about the amount of homework some of the children have been bringing home on certain nights.

Rebecca Traylor's third-grade daughter has special education needs that she felt weren't being met.

"This was wonderful," Traylor said after the meeting. I feel like I wasn't shoved aside. I got my daughter's needs addressed."

According to a four-year study involving 71 schools in seven states by Westat for the U.S. Department of Education, reading test scores were 50 percent higher for those third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at schools with high levels of parent outreach. Math scores for the same group were 40 percent higher.

Anne T. Henderson, author of nearly a dozen books on the relationship between parent involvement and student achievement, said having the principal attend the meeting was "an interesting twist," but a good one.

"Contact between schools and families needs to be more personal," said Henderson. "This is an excellent practice, and I encourage (Miles) to continue it and for other schools to take it up."

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