Parenthood is an exciting and rewarding journey full of incredible destinations and remarkable milestones, but the road can get lonely, even for the most well intentioned. Preparing a child for a lifetime of learning starts early, and one local resource is helping parents create a road map for their child’s success.
The Rockdale County Public School System recognized the importance of early development and started the Parents as Teachers program in 2008. Working with the parents of children ages newborn to 5 years old, the program provides parent education and family support to 120 families in Rockdale County. The program, which is housed at the Rockdale Career Academy’s Early Learning Center, is an evidence-based, internationally recognized program that helps parents capture the teachable moments in everyday life.
Conyers resident Latoya Folds first heard about PAT from a friend and enrolled in the program two years ago. While the stay-at-home mother of seven had plenty of experience, she says PAT has helped her sharpen her skills by providing an invaluable support system.
“I got involved because I don’t have all the answers and I want more for my family, for my kids, for myself,” Folds said. “I wanted to learn what is available in the community that would help them. I am creative, but sometimes you need additional ideas on what to do."
Folds said PAT has helped her twin three-year-olds become more interested in learning, has honed their motor skills and has affected their speech.
"It provided an educational environment to start their learning," Folds explained. "I've been home with my kids for many years now. It lets me know I'm not in it alone. It's support system."
Rockdale County has five certified parent educators who work with families through personal visits, parent workshops, group meetings and developmental screenings to help parents learn what to expect during each stage of development. The goal is to encourage parent involvement in their children's learning and help them become more confident in their role as parents.
Even though PAT is funded through the RCPS Early Learning Initiative, local partnerships with non-profits such as United Way and collaboratives with area businesses allow the program to provide resources beyond educational tools. While the program is currently full and a waiting list is growing, PAT can still provide valuable information to assist families with all aspects of providing a safe and stable home.
PAT Coordinator Jesseca Steele and her staff are key to the program's success, and community support plays a huge role at PAT. As is the case with all educational funding, the budget is tight and they are always searching for resources that will aid in reaching more families, especially those who are on the growing waiting list.
"We set goals for the family's well-being, things that the parents want to be able to do in the long-run," Steele said. "We can help with everything from budgeting and nutrition to potty training and preparing for kindergarten. We also connect them with programs that can provide assistance for families in need. We want parents to know we are here for them. But, in order for us to continue to have the successes that we have, we must have local support and even national support from private foundations."
The importance of continuing and growing the PAT program is evidenced by the results - children who participated in the PAT program and are kindergarten, first grade and second grade students are all meeting or exceeding grade-level benchmarks, according to Steele. The national PAT reports show that children also scored higher on kindergarten readiness and on standardized measures of achievement in early grades.
Programs with resources and benefits similar to PAT are relatively new but long overdue. For more information about the program, visit the PAT page at www.rockdale.k12.ga.us.