Community program will help parents deal with children's school difficulties Clearinghouse offers assistance


Jacquie Cowan has seen plenty: kids who ran out of the classroom screaming, who hid under their desks, who simply weren't prepared to learn. And she's seen parents who have no idea where to turn for help.

Which is why she's so excited about the "community center" program beginning this year at Odenton Elementary. One of four such initiatives financed through a $350,000 Ford Foundation grant, the center is designed as something of a clearinghouse for parents whose children are having difficulty at school, or who simply want to become more involved in their children's education.

"I don't solve a family's problems," said Ms. Cowan, director of Odenton's Family Development Community. "I get people together to look at how to solve them."

Western Anne Arundel County, she said, has a great need for someone to connect parents with such community resources as churches, businesses and child-care.

Problems with young children sparked the idea for the centers, which also have been opened in Baltimore City and Baltimore and St. Mary's counties.

"I've heard of kids with separation anxiety screaming bloody murder, kids biting and kicking other kids and kids running out of the room in the middle of class," Ms. Cowan said. "The feeling is that children don't come to class prepared to learn. Teachers say they are spending more time teaching young kids values and social skills than they should be, and businesses feel that they are not receiving employees with employable skills."

She hopes to use those businesses and teachers to help parents. The effort started with last month's School Readiness Fair, a survey for parents and the current Effective Parenting Workshop.

At the fair, "guidance counselors spoke on encouragement and children's behavior, gym teachers showed parents aerobic workouts they could do with their kids, the school library told parents how to read to their children, and Planned Parenthood talked about how to encourage and answer kids' questions about sex," she said. "It was the epitome of what the program is about."

Almost 150 families attended the fair. Local businesses picked up the $2,500 price tag. "It didn't cost my budget one penny," Ms. Cowan said.

The fair kicked off the program, but the survey will fuel it, once Ms. Cowan tallies the results. "Right now, it looks like child care, the problems of single parents and the lack of public transportation head the list of problems," she said.

The center is sponsoring Effective Parenting Workshops from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 9. "This week's topic is understanding children's behavior, an overall introduction to the subject," she said.

Ms. Cowan would like to set up an information center in the school's library, where parents can research any problem they have with their kids. She hopes to get businesses to buy the materials. "If we have to, we'll start with only five books and expand from there," she said.

She would also like counselors there to answer parents' questions. She'd prefer volunteers, but would try convincing a local business to serve as sponsor.

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