Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - Kindergarten–not high school–is the time to prevent truancy by teaching parents how to get their children off to a good start in school, experts with New Mexico State University say.
That's why NMSU's Strengthening Families Initiative (SFI) is offering fall classes in English and Spanish for parents with children 5 to 12 years old. Groups meet from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at Conlee Elementary, 1701 Boston Drive.
"In these classes, we're working with the Las Cruces Public Schools and the local public housing authority to help families build strong relationships and share ways that parents can help their children succeed in school," said Lisa Shields, SFI coordinator. "We hope parents will come back to school to learn new ways to take care of themselves and their families."
Statewide, 1,304 adults and 1,383 children have completed the 15-week Strengthening Families classes, which cover topics from communication to cooking nutritious foods. The program, which began five years ago, is funded with a $400,000 grant from New Mexico Human Services Department.
At the beginning of each 2.5-hour session, families spend time together. Then parents meet separately to discuss techniques for encouraging good behavior and helping children in school. Age-appropriate activities and games for children reinforce self-worth, family rules and valuing education. Books and educational materials are provided for participants.
Classes are free to those who qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Participants may sign up through Sept. 22 for the classes, which began Aug. 25. Sessions run for 15 weeks with a scheduled break for Thanksgiving. The final class and graduation is Dec. 8.
"After taking classes, parents report that they see real changes in their families, and I enjoy helping parents realize their family goals," said Maria Jimenez, who will teach sessions in Spanish.
A $15,000 grant from the state public education department's truancy prevention program helped fund the classes at Conlee.
The public housing program, which lost funding for truant officers two years ago, provides support and supplies for the classes, said Thomas Hassell, housing authority executive director.
"We are big on collaborating with anyone who has something to offer our clients," he said. "We are successful if we keep even one kid from dropping out and failing in society."
School district social workers provide family referrals. Conlee Principal Ken Major hired three educational assistants for the classes and offered meeting space at the school, Shields said.
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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