Local Parents Earn Diploma to Better Their Children

Updated: 12/13/2012 10:24 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

It was graduation day Wednesday for St. Paul Public Schools, but not for the kids--for their parents!

In an effort to help students better perform in class, and get into college, the school district has enrolled willing moms and dads in something it calls "The Parents' Academy."

But do parents really need how to learn to be, well, parents?

The ceremony at Washington Technical Magnet School had all the pomp and circumstance one might expect of a graduation. Chanel Churcher, one of hundreds of parents being honored, wore her cap and gown with pride.

And while the "degrees" Chanel and the others received probably won't help their resumes, they're counting on them helping their children. Single mom Chanel says she needed some knowledge to better guide her 14-year-old son Lohnel through high school. She doesn't want to make the same mistakes she says she made with Lohnel's older sister.

"There were times that I missed parent conferences because I was tired," Chanel admits. I'm just gonna be honest. I was tired. I was working but now i see i have to be engaged."

Two weeks earlier, at Central High school during one of the Academy classes, instructor Dana Abrams told her students., "Having information and resources is necessary so we can make our students as successful as possible."

All fall, for three hours once a week, Chanel and the other parents in Abrams' class took a crash course in "teenager."

"Remind us all what that GPA is, ma'am," Abrams asked one mother.

Later, Abrams said, "Some parents are just learning it means grade point average, they're learning how it's calculated, etc."

Abrams' class was for English speakers; there are others for the Hmong, for Somalis, and for Spanish speakers.

Chanel explained, "We don't speak the same language but I think we've got one common goal though. We want our kids to go to college. We want our kids to be successful."

The parents learn about the courses their kids need to take to get into college, about applying for financial aid, about the differences between the ACT and the SAT.

Parent Terri Adams, a Parent Academy attendee, said, "How else are you going to know that unless you've gone to college yourself?"

There are also conversations about nutrition, discipline, self esteem and more.

Parent Tiffani Brooks, another Academy attendee, said, "We listen to each other's problems and realize we're not in the boat alone, we're all together."

The St. Paul School District say surveys of the parents before they enrolled in this course showed about 25 percent of them hadn't ever reviewed their child's transcripts or course load.

That's all changed at Chanel and Lohnel's home. "I wasn't really confident about my work," Lohnel said. "I wasn't even turning in my assignments on time, wasn't applying myself as much as i am right now."

Also Wednesday, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman announced the city's 2013 budget will include a $200,000 investment in the Parent Academy program. That will enable the school district to expand it from 12 locations, to schools throughout the city.

The school district says it's too soon to know whether the parent academy, now in its second year, is making a statistical impact on student achievement, on standardized test scores or graduation rates.

But at Wednesday's graduation at least, there's no doubt the academy has inspired and motivated. You could see it in Lohnel's eyes.

"If she can do it, I could do it, so let me step up my game," Lohnel said. Referring to the cap and gown spectacle, he added, "That's going to be me in four years!"

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com