JUSTIN SELLERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Shemeka Ware, the Frazier Elementary 2013 parent of the year, helps her children Jasmine, 10, and Tia, 16, with homework Friday at their home on County Club Drive.
JUSTIN SELLERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Shemeka Ware, the Frazier Elementary 2013 parent of the year, helps her children Jasmine, 10, and Tia, 16, with homework Friday at their home on County Club Drive.

Is parental involvement important to school district’s success?

Published 12:03am Sunday, September 29, 2013

This is the third in a series examining the next steps for improving the Natchez-Adams School District.

NATCHEZ — Shemeka Ware’s daily routine revolves around helping her daughters with schoolwork and anything else they ask from their mother.

The Natchez native wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It is vitally important for me to be involved with every aspect of my kids’ lives,” Ware said. “Everything starts at home and if there is no structure or foundation, there’s nothing for kids to build on or strive to achieve.

JUSTIN SELLERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Parent liaison Cookie Givens watches over a group of Mclaurin Elementary Schoolers Wednesday morning.
JUSTIN SELLERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Parent liaison Cookie Givens watches over a group of Mclaurin Elementary Schoolers Wednesday morning.

“More than anything, it’s that encouragement and support of them knowing that you’re there if they need anything.”

Parents such as Ware, Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Frederick Hill said, are some of the most important people playing a part in helping the district move forward.

“I’ve worked in districts with high and lower parental support, and you can really tell the difference in those districts where parents are involved,” Hill said. “That’s key in helping this district.”

As the district looks to rebound from “F” state accountability ratings and falling state test scores, Hill said continuing to reach out to parents and provide them resources to be involved is necessary to create successful students and schools.

“We need to be encouraging parents to come in and be a part of the educational process,” Hill said. “We need to welcome parents into the district and have them be a part of the team.”

Support system

The successes of Jasmine Ware, 10, and Tia Ware have been a top priority for Shemeka since their births.

Jasmine, who is a fifth-grade student at Frazier Elementary School, is a straight-A student and currently receives a bit more hands-on attention than Tia, who is a senior at Natchez High School.

ROD GUAJARDO | The Natchez Democrat — Hattie Harris shows off an award she received after being selected as one of the 2013 Natchez-Adams School District parents of the year. Harris has two granddaughters at Natchez High School.
ROD GUAJARDO | The Natchez Democrat — Hattie Harris shows off an award she received after being selected as one of the 2013 Natchez-Adams School District parents of the year. Harris has two granddaughters at Natchez High School.

“I’m more involved at the school with Jasmine in the elementary school, but I’m more involved at home with the one in high school,” Shemeka said. “In the elementary school, they only have two or three teachers so I can easily go by the school to talk to all them.“But it’s just as important to be a part of their lives in high school because there are more distractions and more things going on in their lives.”

Shemeka frequently uses an online system the district offers called Active Parent, which allows her to login and monitor her children’s grades in order to keep up with the subjects she needs to reinforce at home.

“I can see what they need to complete and identify where we need to make an improvement,” Shemeka said. “If something isn’t working, I want to know what it is and what I can do to help.”

Providing her children with positive reinforcement and a support system, however, is just as important as keeping up with academic progress, Shemeka said.

“It may not always necessarily be going to the school, but just saying, ‘How was your day? What did you all learn? Do you have any homework?’” she said. “Just being aware of what’s going on in their lives and making sure they know you’re there for them makes all the difference.”

Leading the way

Hattie Harris says she knows it takes a village to raise a child, which is why the Natchez native stays just as involved with her grandchildren’s education as when her children were in school.

“Some people say children are tomorrow’s future, but right now, today is the future, so I need to be there for my grandchildren just like I was there for my children,” Harris said. “I committed myself to be an active participant in helping our community’s children achieve independent, productive futures.

“A child’s values, goals and personality are shaped by the people who come into their life — if only for a brief moment.”

Harris has two granddaughters — Jasmine Winding, 16, and Chelsea White, 17, — who attend NHS and said she makes herself available for whatever they need.

“I’ll pick them up from school, take them where they need to go, help them with their schoolwork, but mainly just try to be a role model,” Harris said. “A good role model will lead them in the right direction.”

Harris is involved in the high school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association and has volunteered her time through numerous school organizations, such as the Drug Awareness Posse, Special Olympics and Beta Club.

“Whatever it is they call on me to do, I’m happy to help,” she said. “If you get involved in your child’s life, they are going to do better.”

Providing resources

Each school in the district has its own parent center that offers a variety of information and resources to keep parents involved.

At McLaurin Elementary School, parent liaison Cookie Gibbons stays in contact with all teachers throughout the school to ensure the material she has available for parents matches what their children are learning in the classroom.

“So if for some reason their child hasn’t mastered a particular skill or lesson, they can come in here and get the material or information they need to help their child,” Gibbons said. “We just try to supply as much material to them as we can to help.”

Apart from worksheets or reading material for specific lessons, the parent centers also give parents the ability to use computers to monitor their child’s progress.

“Everything right now is very technology based, but not everyone has access to that technology,” Gibbons said. “So the parent center offers them those materials that they might not be able to get at their own home.”

NHS parent liaison Joyce Newell said having an involved parent at the high-school level is just as important as during the early, developmental years.

“The older years are just as crucial because you still have to be there for support,” Newell said. “It’s that support of knowing that I do have my parent with me and they are there if I need them.”

Hill said continuing the parent center and parent liaison programs throughout the district is an absolute necessity.

“With so many budget cuts over the last few years, a lot of districts have gotten away from those parent liaison positions,” Hill said. “We’re fortunate enough to continue to support that, and it makes a big difference to get someone out in front of the parents.”

Hill said he also hopes to continue offering more programs and events to get parents involved throughout the district.

The district hosted a parent university last year, which consisted of a variety of breakout sessions in classrooms at NHS to address children’s specific needs. The sessions were focused on math, reading and language arts topics for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

“I want each and every school to have more parent universities instead of just one centralized parent university,” Hill said. “If each school has their own, it gives parents the opportunity to see what exactly is going on, and teachers can share with the parents.”

Another more mandatory parental involvement approach is also being tested at the Robert Lewis Magnet School for STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math.

The school opened this year to more than 125 sixth-grade students. Part of the admission process required an agreement form parents or guardians to work a minimum of 10 volunteer hours per school year.

“It’s working great,” Hill said. “Those parents know that one of the ways to get help is the program and their job is to be involved as a parent and now there’s a certain level of expectation for those parents.

“We’re looking at Robert Lewis as a model for something we can do district wide in the future.”