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New liaison team promotes parent involvement, solves problems

 Meet the parent liaisons, who are recent additions to the Varnett Public School family. A concept established by Dr. Margaret Stroud, Varnett’s interim superintendent, parent liaisons are Varnett staff members who have the unique opportunity to bridge the communication gap between teachers and parents.

At Northeast Campus, Ms. Anna Medina has organized a parent volunteer group and  sponsored a cheerleading squad along with a girl empowerment group called “It’s A Girl Thing.”

At East Campus, Ms. Leidy Martinez has helped create parent social events, reached out to the corporate community for fundraising support and is bridging the language gap between Hispanic parents and Varnett staff.

At Southwest Campus, Ms. LaShanon Hollis has recruited more than 40 volunteers and has launched the first PTO group to raise funds and encourage student, parent, community and school partnerships.

And at Southwest pre-k, Ms. Pamella Thomas is recruiting parent volunteers to assist teachers in classroom activities and has organized various family-oriented events including craft activities and fundraisers.
“I love to help people and see our parents happy,” Ms. Martinez said. “The parent liaison position is a wonderful experience for my future professional career.”
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The liaisons serve as advocates for students, giving them the opportunity to have a place to go and talk about successes and challenges they may be having in school.  The liaisons work in tandem with the campus directors, instructional coaches and district administrators to ensure all parental involvement activities are conducted with excellence, adhering to the mission and vision of the district. They are also problem solvers, often the “go to” people who handle complaints, provide information and tackle difficult situations.

For example, Ms. Hollis recently recalled a situation in which a student told her mom that she was not allowed to eat lunch a school.  The girl returned home every school day with a full lunch kit.  After being notified by the concerned parent, Ms. Hollis investigated and found that the student had eaten food served by the cafeteria staff but did not have time to eat the packed lunch from home. “The parent was relieved and took comfort in knowing that her child had eaten,” Ms. Hollis said.

“I learned that every situation doesn’t always yield the results you want, but they can end on a positive note,” said Ms. Hollis. “I have received many ‘thank yous,’ words of gratitude and sighs of relief from parents. They feel I am helping them stay connected to what is going on with their children.”

According to a report in Research for Action, the involvement of parents in their children’s schooling is becoming increasingly viewed not simply as a complement to the work of educators, but as an essential support for the academic, psychological and the emotional development of youth.

Ms.Tori Dugar, Varnett’s chief academic officer, said each parent liaison is encouraged to use her creativity when working with staff and parents, taking into consideration the school’s culture and student population.

The Varnett East Campus invited all of its grandparents for 50’s themed Grandparent Day.  The visitors were inundated with culture and décor from the 1950s and enjoyed a great breakfast with their grandchildren while getting to meet their teachers.  Ms. Martinez helps organize events but also sends get-well cards to her students who are ill and creates “Goody Baskets” that are used for raffle prizes at all parent events.

Ms. Hollis, of the Southwest Campus, is a veteran when it comes to working with the community and schools.  Ms. Dugar said Ms. Hollis has a great deal of experience in advocating for students and has done an amazing job at getting to know her new community and school.  Ms. Ni’Cole Mukes, the campus director, concurs.

“Ms. Hollis has a plethora of creative ideas that get parents into the building,” Ms. Mukes said, praising Ms. Hollis’ preparation for the various parent night activities held at the campus.

At Southwest PK,  Ms. Thomas and her colleagues are working on assembling a choir for the upcoming holiday season. “My duties include providing support to the Varnett School and parents, showcasing students’ talents and abilities and celebrating the diversity of the community.”

Overall, the implementation of the parent liaisons to assist in the district’s parental involvement has been a huge success, Ms. Dugar said. “Their dedication to their schools and the communities has been priceless.  We are looking for great things to come.”

In speaking to a group of parents recently, Dr. Stroud said: “For your participation, we agree to give your children the best education possible.”

Ms. Hayward, parent of a kindergartner at Southwest, said she understands the value of parent participation. “It’s a good idea for parents and teachers to interact with each other,” she said. “It makes it easier for the children and lets them know we are here to teach them.”

Story by Ms. Dugar, district academic officer

Pete McConnell contributed
Photo: (From left), Ms. Medina, Ms. Thomas, Ms. Hollis and Ms. Martinez
How to contact the Parent Liaisons:
East Campus, Ms. Martinez, 713-637-6574
Northeast Campus, Ms. Medina, 713-631-4396
Southwest Campus, Ms. Hollis, 713-723-4699
Southwest PK Campus, Ms. Thomas, 713-667-4051


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