Beech Acres helps school families navigate parenthood via Toyota Family Learning

Six individuals gather around a table at the Parent Center at Hays Porter Elementary School in the West End. They meet for two hours each Monday and have done so since midway through the 2014-15 school year.

Some are young mothers, some grandmothers — all caregivers — hoping to gain advice and share ideas with other parents, to become better at engaging their children in learning activities around the home and to develop relationships while serving as role models invested in bettering their communities.
Hays Porter and Academy of World Languages (AWL) in O’Bryonville are the two Cincinnati Public Schools currently participating in the program led by Beech Acres Parenting Center, one of 10 grantees nationwide to receive $175,000 from Toyota and the National Center for Families Learning for its implementation. AWL’s parent population is diverse in nature — many are first-generation immigrants and some are refugees — and 90 percent of participating families at both schools are considered low-income.

Wednesday, June 3 marks a special day, when this year’s group of parents will become Beech Acres’ first class of Toyota Family Learning graduates. The program will grow over the next couple years and expand into other local schools in an effort to reach more parents, but there is already much to celebrate.

Support through mentorship 
“This group has formed relationships since they started, and they’re all very different — there’s a whole variety of parental roles in the group,” says Jennifer Wikette, who serves in Beech Acres’ Behavioral Health Department and as Peer Support Program Manager and Lead for the Toyota Family Learning program. “The mentoring component has happened very naturally in this setting, which has been great to see as they’ve gotten to know each other and build upon each other’s knowledge.”
Take Beth Fischer, for instance, whose daughter just finished sixth grade at Hays Porter. Fischer recognizes the value she can be to other parental units, as she remembers what it was like to have her first child.
“We’ve been with Beech Acres since she was an infant,” Fischer says. “And they’ve helped guide me in the right direction. Your oldest one, to me, is not always the easiest.”
Raising a child is a learning process, and for some with extenuating circumstances it can be an incredibly difficult one.
“My daughter, she’s bullied, and it’s partially because I’m fat,” Fischer says. “I don’t get around much, and she’s learned to help me when need be. You might want to say she’s a ‘mama’s child,’ and some of the kids don’t like that.”

Problem-solving through discussion
Through sharing with other parents and receiving guidance from professionals — both from Beech Ares and other community groups that provide guest speakers — the group has been able to talk with one another and develop a plan to tackle the issue.
So they collaborated and involved their children to start a school-wide anti-bullying campaign called “Fill a Bucket,” in which students are encouraged to stand up against the act. Each time they do, they place an item in the bucket; once it’s full, they’re rewarded with a prize.
Fischer’s daughter, who is 12, was able to cope with being bullied in a way that enabled her to speak out against hurtful words and actions by advocating for the “Fill a Bucket” program and advertising it to her peers daily via the morning announcements.
“She’s learned, and I have taught her (that) if someone needs help, help them — whether they’re in a wheelchair, they’re black, white, Chinese, Japanese, whatever,” Fischer says. “So that’s what this group has helped me understand. Kids are going to be bullied, and this has helped me figure out how to help her deal with it.”

Literacy and online learning 
Bullying is a recurring issue we’re all too familiar with, but the rise of technology is a new one for some. Mary Holston, whose granddaughter is a second-grader at Hays Porter, says the program helps her navigate a new cultural landscape.
“I’m an older person — I’m 61 years old — and to be around them brings me joy,” Holston says. “To hear about how they’re raising their kids in this day and time from the time I raised mine, it’s a lot different. Back in the day, a computer or a program couldn’t tell me how to raise them, but in this day and age you need all the help you can get, and this Toyota Family (Learning) Program is doing a great job.”
One aspect of the program includes access to programs like Family Time Machine and Wonderopolis — online learning tools taught to parents and guardians who can then implement new activities during their time spent with children.
Completed during bath time, snack time and every time in between, parents and children alike are able to build on literacy skills, gain newfound knowledge and develop stronger ties with one another.
“The parent/child relationship is the foundation of social and emotional well-being,” Wikette says. “By actively engaging in your child’s education — setting goals for your child, helping with homework, keeping in touch with teachers, asking about your child’s day — you help your child succeed not just academically but in terms of health, behavior and lifelong achievement.”

Setting goals and making plans 
Setting and achieving goals — through service learning projects completed as a family or through ranking, discussing and learning how to model particular values at home — are points of emphasis.
In a session focused on family visions, Ricka Berry, a guest speaker and Beech Acres professional who’s been with the organization for 14 years, led participants through a discussion on expectations and aims: setting aside time to plan grocery lists together, figuring out healthy food options that are affordable and accessible to their families, chatting about learned behavior and setting standards for discipline.
“You can be smart as a whip but not have strong decision-making skills and not be mature enough,” Berry says. “Most parents would say education is at the peak, but social and emotional development is just as important. It goes back to, ‘What do I expose them to? How do I role model? How do I plan ahead to make sure if they’re exposed to these things, they make better decisions?'” 

Read more articles by Brittany York.

Brittany York is a freelance writer, adjunct English composition instructor and server at Orchids at Palm Court. She loves travel and photography. Keep up with Brittany on Instagram @brittbrittbrittbrittany.
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