The teachers and administrators at Culver School are expanding their outreach beyond the school day to connect with more parents and engage them in their children’s education.
One idea that is gaining traction is book clubs. Principal Erica Smolinski explained, “That idea originated last year with Superintendent John Kosirog. Then, when I became principal, I let him know that I had experience organizing and running book clubs, and I really enjoy doing it.”
A book discussion that was purely for parents took place near the beginning of the school year. It focused on Mom, They're Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems by Michael G. Thompson. It is based on the assumption that everyone has gone through teasing at some time in their life, and that parents are in a good position to help their own kids deal with it by building character and resilience. The book offers case studies and Q&As. “What we stress is that this is their school, and we are here for them,” Dr. Smolinski said. About 25 parents turned out for the event.
Other book clubs are geared to specific grade levels, and both students and their parents are welcome to attend. One that took place recently was for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. It featured a book titled This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe, which offers stories about the daily lives of seven children from different cultures.
An earlier family book club was aimed at students in grades 4-8. It featured a young-adult novel called Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, which weaves a story about children from different places and times, with elements of science fiction, mystery and fairy tale.
Some book club events are designed specifically for English learners (ELs) — families from outside the United States whose first language is not English. One featured the picture book Drawn Together by Minh Lê, with illustrations by Dan Santat. Relying primarily on the pictures, it describes how a boy and his grandfather who speak different languages overcome that barrier by drawing together.
The staff at Culver have been reaching out to EL families in other ways as well. “About 12 percent of our students qualify for EL services at school, but the percentage of families for whom English is a second language is much higher,” said Oscar Suarez, Culver’s assistant principal. “We’re trying to find ways to connect with all of them and show parents that the school is here for them, no matter what language they speak.”
In October 2017, Culver staff took EL parents to the Niles public library and helped them obtain library cards. Culver has also partnered with Oakton Community College to provide more EL-oriented services for parents.
In November, Mr. Suarez and the EL staff offered an early report card presentation that attracted 61 EL parents and students. Parents received their children’s report cards a day before the rest of the school. At the same time, they learned about grading practices and received information about how to read and interpret the report cards. Afterwards, they were treated to dinner at the school.
“One thing we are proud of is that we offered the report card information in five languages: English, Polish, Spanish, Urdu and Assyrian,” Mr. Suarez said. For parents who were not comfortable in one of those languages, EL teacher Mary Ellen Mueller provided a simplified presentation.
Yet another family night in early December was open to anyone who wanted to learn about helping children navigate the digital world of texts, online games and social media. After dinner, parents heard a presentation titled “Raising Digital Natives” by Devorah Heitner, the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. The idea for that presentation came from a parent who was familiar with Dr. Heitner’s work.
Other book clubs, EL programs and community events are in the works for 2019.
“We especially like to offer early-evening events so as many families can participate as possible,” Dr. Smolinski said. “The idea is to connect Culver School with parents and connect parents with the school. This is a place for learning for everyone.”