Since Tracy Kelly's twins joined the after-school Homework Club at St. John's Lane Elementary, she has seen their confidence and self-esteem rise.
The Ellicott City mother has undergone some changes herself, as part of a new parent outreach program at the school. Both were funded through a $9,000 United Way grant awarded in October.
Through the program, she has learned how to read to her youngsters and has helped draft a letter asking school board officials not to redistrict her children to Rockburn Branch Elementary in Elkridge.
"It gets us more involved with the kids," Ms. Kelly said of the parent outreach program.
The United Way grant that funded the programs is one of five given last year to Howard County organizations, including St. John's and Elkridge elementary schools, and aimed at financing community partnerships that preserve families.
Elkridge Elementary is using its $4,000 grant for a series of Saturday evening sessions that offer parenting workshops and activities families can do together.
At St. John's, school officials are using the grant to help families in the Hilltop neighborhood above historic Ellicott City, which has a significant number of low-income families.
Children attending the Homework Club receive help in math, reading and writing, while their parents learn parenting and life skills.
"In order to help these children and make it last, we also have to help parents," said Darlene Fila, assistant principal at St. John's, who supervised the grant proposal.
The yearlong grant has provided transportation for parents who TC don't have cars and opportunities for parents to enroll in General Equivalency Diploma classes and refresher courses sponsored by the Howard County Library.
Next month, parents will learn about attention deficit disorder and how to find free counseling for families.
"The purpose is to give them parenting skills to augment what we're doing with the kids at school," Ms. Fila said.
Since the outreach program began, parents have begun viewing the school in a different light, she said. "They're becoming more interactive with the school."
Children who attend the Homework Club also are behaving better in class, she added. Three times a week, about 25 students meet after school with three countywide resource teachers and a handful of teachers from St. John's.
"From kids, we're seeing far less discipline needed," Ms. Fila said.
The children say the extra attention is paying off in the classroom.
"It helps me explain things better" said Chelsea Saunders, a fourth-grader from Ellicott City.
Christina Fredericks, a 10-year-old from Ellicott City, said the Homework Club lets her finish her lessons before returning home.
"When you get home, you get free time to play," Christina said.
Ms. Fila is so excited by the gains parents and students have made at St. John's, that she plans to apply for another United Way grant.
"I don't think one year is enough," she said. "We would like to expand this to other neighborhoods."