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Educators looking for surefire ways to strengthen the home-school connection should take a page from the UFT’s Queens parent book clubs.
“These reading groups, which have expanded to include other avenues of parental involvement, are a way (to develop relationships) without lecturing and doing the same old things to teach kids responsibility and raise their self-esteem,” said early childhood social worker Beth Levy.
Along with several other UFT members, Levy and fellow social worker Harriet Gold-Cabelly have been bringing parents together since 2008, when a handful of parents first attended book clubs at a few schools.
Today, more than 300 parents from diverse backgrounds, united by a commitment to their children’s education, are attending the clubs, as well as workshops, documentary film screenings and other activities at virtually every district in the borough.
In the book clubs, after reading selected works of contemporary fiction and nonfiction, such as “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd and “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, parents meet once a month to discuss the work.
“That discussion inevitably leads to more personal topics,” said Levy. She and Gold-Cabelly are on hand to facilitate the discussion and step in with professional insights when appropriate.
According to Gold-Cabelly, the film series was established in the same spirit. It’s a vehicle for parents to discuss challenging educational and parenting issues, she said.
Levy and Gold-Cabelly’s film series was launched on Feb. 4 at PS 115 in Floral Park with the screening of “Including Samuel,” which focuses on a couple’s efforts to get their son, who has cerebral palsy, fully included at school.
The event was a hit.
Several parents suggested showing the film to children as an anti-bullying tool to help develop compassion.
Workshops such as the four-session “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” are also popular.
According to Rose Walker-Yates, the UFT Queens parent and community liaison, a total of 25 clubs are flourishing, including those facilitated by Levy and Gold-Cabelly, by guidance counselor Anne Langhorne and by several retired teachers.
Activities can include phone chats with authors and visits to cultural institutions in addition to workshops and film screenings.
At the culminating event at the end of the school year, all of the parents get together to share highlights and to network.
“Children who see their parents reading are much more likely to become avid readers themselves,” said UFT Queens Borough Representative Rona Freiser, who had the idea for the clubs three years ago. “We’re seeing families in which parents and kids ask each other about the books they’re reading, and that’s music to our ears.”
Walker-Yates, who coordinates the book clubs, pointed out that the more parents get active at the school level, the more they see the need to advocate for their children’s education on a larger scale.
Scores of parents recently joined the UFT in a postcard campaign to state legislators protesting the proposed public school budget cuts.
Freiser is glad to see the creative activities that have grown out of the clubs.
“The stronger the partnership between home and school,” she said, “the better it is for kids and teachers.”