Homework Diner Brings Pleasant View Community Together

Gabriel Estridge watches as her first-grade daughter, Jazlyn, traces letters and words at the Panther Homework Diner at Pleasant View Elementary School.

Vera Farley watches as her first-grade daughter, Jazlyn, traces letters and words at the Panther Homework Diner at Pleasant View Elementary School.

Pleasant View Elementary School is known for its willingness to try innovative strategies to improve student achievement and build a strong school community. The school has been widely recognized for its initiatives in blended learning, combining traditional classroom instruction with technology. Last month, Principal Gara Field was invited to a White House conference for educational leaders in digital learning. (See related story: https://providenceschools.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/pleasant-view-principal-gara-field-makes-presentation-at-white-house-summit)

Maggie Rainone, a first-grade teacher at Pleasant View, plays a letter sequencing game with (from right) Marianelys, Jazlynn and Tyra.

Maggie Rainone, a first-grade teacher at Pleasant View, plays a letter sequencing game with (from right) Marianelys, Jazlynn and Tyra.

Parent engagement efforts have ranged from fun events such as Game and Movie nights, Culture Nights and Lights ON Afterschool to the newest program, the Panther Homework Diner. A simple but effective idea, the Homework Diner was developed by Ashley Hogan, Full Service Community School Director, and Ali Imholt, City Year Program Manager.

After attending a Full Service Community Schools Conference last year in Cincinnati, Imholt learned about a similar program in Albuquerque, which had become a successful parent engagement event. Parents and students were invited to do homework with their classroom teacher, after which everyone enjoyed a home-cooked meal together. The program soon achieved national recognition in January when it was featured on “NBC Nightly News” and received a special visit from Chelsea Clinton.

“By bringing the Diner to Pleasant View, we hope that families will feel more connected to their school, that they will be better equipped to help their children with homework, and that the diner will provide families an opportunity to connect with teachers and school staff more authentically and with greater frequency, therefore strengthening the bonds and trust between school and home,” said Hogan.

The Diner has been held four times with the goal of offering it twice a month. At every Diner, City Year provides a meal from a local restaurant.

“We thought it would be a good fit here,” added Imholt. “A lot of our family engagement programs are fun. We wanted to create something with more of an academic focus.”

Kindergarten teacher Amber Pion plays a math game to reinforce counting skills at the Panther Diner.

Kindergarten teacher Amber Pion plays a math game to reinforce counting skills at the Panther Diner.

The atmosphere is casual as parents work with their children on homework while a teacher is just a few steps away to assist. In some cases, teachers work with students at length, strengthening math and counting skills or letter sequencing through homework or educational games. City Year and YMCA volunteers are plentiful and, for the final half-hour of the program, students, parents, teachers and volunteers enjoy dinner together.

Kindergarten teacher Amber Pion has participated in every Diner so far, and on this evening, was armed with counting games. One of her professional growth goals, used to evaluate new teachers, is to increase parent and teacher collaboration. “We focus on skills, and I like spending the evening with parents and getting them involved in their student’s education.”

“The level of teacher involvement has been inspiring to both of us,” added Hogan. “At our first Diner, we had eight teachers stay to volunteer their time and, for the second Diner, that number shot to 12. We look forward to seeing how this event takes root in our school community and how it inspires growth in our students.”

As a Full Service Community School, Pleasant View has partnered with nonprofit and community organizations to provide before and after-school programming, academic support and family engagement activities. In addition to the YMCA and City Year, other community partners include Dorcas International Institute, Family Service of RI and the Capital Good Fund.

City Year volunteers work with students in their classrooms and are well attuned to the school’s curriculum and teacher expectations, according to Imholt and Hogan.

“I like it already,” said Vera Farley, who was helping her first-grade daughter trace letters and words. “It’s very helpful.”

“I have more time to do my work and the teachers are helping so I understand it more,” said fifth-grader William Cortes, who was working with his math teacher, Seth Bower. “I definitely get my homework done.”

Bower added that, “If a student is having trouble, there is a range of teachers across grade levels who can help.”

Second-grade teacher Stacy Andreozzi said that by working together, teachers are able to help parents to help their kids. “Homework is different now with the Common Core. We are able to explain to parents how to get the answer because there is more than one way. It’s also a really good home-school connection. It’s nice having parents eating dinner with teachers.”

“We’ve latched onto a way to engage families,” said Hogan. “Students are leaving with their homework done. Parents can ask teachers questions about the homework and different strategies for helping their children.

“My kids feel like they’re part of something,” said Tonya Whitman Reyes. “There are other people to help with homework. They can associate with their classmates on a different level. The teachers are great and City Year is wonderful. Everyone is very patient.”

First-grade teacher Maggie Rainone played a letter sequencing game with a group of students. “This is a different environment than a classroom because it’s less structured. It’s helpful to kids because they’re not doing homework alone. When they’re done, we can play a learning game. It’s fun and educational at the same time.”

The Homework Diner is so simple that it can be scaled and replicated in almost any elementary school. Imholt and Hogan hope to expand to Carl Lauro in the near future.

“This is the most satisfying thing I’ve been a part of” said Imholt. “The work to put it together has been worth it and I hope we can establish the Diner so it can return year after year.”

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