Parent Trust programs funded
After a funding delay, SERC and the CT Parent Information and Resource Center (CT PIRC) have released the request for proposals (RFP) for programs to apply for funding under the Parent Trust Fund Grant. The RFP requires a quick turnaround so programs can run to their completion before the end of the school year.
The proposal due date was set at February 2 at 4:00 p.m. EST for parent leadership programs seeking funding under the grant. The complete RFP is at http://ctserc.org/ptfg.
The grant funds training models such as the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI), Parents Supporting Educational Excellence (Parents SEE), People Empowering People (PEP), and Voices for Families. Local education agencies and other agencies and organizations may apply for up to two training models for a maximum total dollar amount of $36,492. The total available this year for all programs is approximately $218,000.
Traditionally, the trust fund covers 75 percent of program costs, with applicants covering the remaining 25 percent. This year, agencies can apply for additional “hardship” funding beyond the 75 percent by including their rationale in the budget narrative.
The Connecticut General Assembly established the Parent Trust Fund in 2001 and must authorize funding annually. SERC and CT PIRC, which operates through SERC, have administered the Parent Trust Fund since 2010 in collaboration with the CT State Department of Education and the Parent Trust Fund Collaborative Management Team.
SERC Executive Director Ingrid M. Canady spoke at the 2017 Trust Fund program graduation, which is held at the Legislative Office Building next to the State Capitol and includes elected officials who themselves are graduates of parent leadership programs.
“We need more of you,” Ingrid said. “We need more civic parent leaders who are going to make a difference on behalf of our children and families.”
The purpose of the annual grant is to train parents, grandparents, foster parents, and others to become skilled advocates and strong voices for children at the local, state, or national level. The goals of the 2017-2018 grant are to promote culturally responsive practices and diverse leadership in communities throughout Connecticut that is more representative of the population; to increase awareness of the issues that matter to families and the important role parents can play as advocates and change agents; to encourage communities to expand the range of parent leadership training opportunities and the number of communities offering the training; and to enhance collaboration among parent leadership training sponsors across the state. Many programs and graduates have continued to collaborate among one another.
SERC leads new opportunity for youth voice in special education
Connecticut middle and high school students with disabilities will have the opportunity to build leadership skills and their voice in the special education process though a new youth advisory council.
SERC and the Connecticut State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education (BSE) are inviting school districts to apply for their students to participate in the Special Education Youth Advisory Council. Interested districts can join an informational webinar on the council on Friday, February 9, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Registration for the webinar is at http://www.ctserc.org/seyac.
The council will allow students to increase their knowledge and enhance their capacity to give informed input on their education. Participants will share their diverse experiences and perspectives to inform the BSE bureau chief and other stakeholders on issues and decisions that impact them.
The students will think, “Now I can really voice my opinion,” says SERC Consultant Nicole M. Vitale, whom BSE Chief Bryan Klimkiewicz tapped to help launch and coordinate the council. “It’s super-exciting.”
SERC has previously run Youth Advisory Councils to increase public awareness of the valuable influence of student voice and greater student independence in the lives of students, families, and communities. This new council is specifically geared for students in special education, reaching students who may not typically have an opportunity to share their points of view.
Following the application process, schools will recruit students to participate in focus groups led by SERC consultants. These groups will include up to two dozen students from one school in six districts representing each region of the state. The students will share their experiences in the special education system—what has gone well for them, and what has not—feedback that will later be shared with the bureau chief, Nicole says.
SERC will also train the students on skills to promote their leadership and student voice. On May 11, they will have the opportunity to participate in the third annual Dismantling Systemic Racism conference, held by SERC and the SERC Foundation.
Some of the students from the focus groups may be chosen for the Special Education Youth Advisory Council, which will officially begin in the 2018-2019 school year.
Approach targets ELs’ early science learning
SERC consultants are coaching Hartford Public Schools on an approach to science in early elementary school classrooms that helps teachers engage with English learners and their progress in literacy.
Consultants Paquita Jarman-Smith and Janet N. Y. Zarchen have received training on The Education Development Center (EDC)’s LASErS project, or Literacy and Academic Success for English Learners through Science. Following the LASErS training at the Connecticut Science Center, which includes educators from several Hartford elementary schools, Paquita and Janet are now in the schools to provide coaching to help the teachers apply what they have learned. They are currently working with first grade classrooms.
Like all early learners from the youngest ages, EL students understand more than they can express. Science involves observation, making predictions, and reflecting on what they have seen—and teachers learn how students are doing that mostly through verbal and written communication. The LASErS approach uses science inquiry and investigations as a guide for teachers to promote language development.
“As the curriculum says, ‘Science is a new language for all young children,” Paquita says. “LASErS is a perfect match for all students.”
Family engagement is a key component. The LASErS approach encourages teachers to inquire about family experiences and knowledge. For example, when teaching about the natural world, they would find out how often the children’s families spend time in nature, whether they take care of plants at home, and some of the words in their home language they use to describe certain elements of nature that they can then use in the classroom.
The LASErS grant to the district also includes materials for use in the classroom and at home, such as seeds. The program includes family events so families can see for themselves what their children are learning and extend it into their homes. The events also allow teachers to observe students and their families engaging with the science in their home language, and some of the parents at the events are even more engaged than the kids, Paquita says. At the end of the year, families in participating Hartford classrooms have a free day at the Connecticut Science Center.
Under LASErS, Paquita, whose work at SERC focuses on early childhood, and Janet, whose focus is literacy, coach the teachers on their learning plans. Sometimes the consultants serve as a co-teacher and other times observe and provide feedback and opportunities for reflection on instructional strategies specific to English learners.
Supporting Hartford schools with implementing LASErS has allowed Paquita and Janet to see immediate results with students. They have directly observed the children’s enthusiasm about the hands-on science lessons.
When it’s a LASErS investigation, Paquita says, the kids “know it’s going to be a fun day.”