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Parent Engagement Program graduates fourth class


By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Thursday, May 30, 2019

A diverse group of Pitt County residents, including two current school board members, made up the fourth graduating class of the Parents for Public Schools yearlong parent engagement program.

The cohort graduated May 16 after a deep dive into the inner workings of public schools in a program known as PEP. The nonprofit Parents for Public Schools introduced the class members to the system and its schools through two-hour workshops, tours and presentations three times a month. 

“This was probably one of our more diverse groups, everything from where they were from to their racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds,” Parents for Public Schools executive director Kylene Dibble said.

“It’s been an incredibly diverse group that all came together and has unified over the topic of public education in such an amazing way.”

Pitt County Schools supports PEP because its graduates become active, engaged parents, which is something every school district needs more of, according to Superintendent Ethan Lenker.

“Anytime you can build parent advocacy and parent understanding is a good thing,” he said. “The whole program has been so positive for me personally, I can’t say enough about it. We support it because the idea of getting parents actively engaged is huge, especially in today’s world where so much is changing.”

Among the 14 graduates are two members of the Pitt County Board of Education, both elected in November while they were enrolled in the program.

District 1 representative Tracy Everette-Lenz learned about the program while she was researching ways to become more involved as a parent online.

“I was a product of Pitt County Schools, and I work in public education. I have a real passion for it, so I wanted to see how I could be more involved,” she said. “I found (the program) beneficial to me. I work in public education, but I gained so much more in-depth information. … I think it’s extremely beneficial for any parent to do the PEP program and go to the presentations (Parents for Public Schools) offer throughout the year.”

Amy Cole, District 2 representative, has two children in Farmville schools. She understands the importance of parent engagement, she said, which is why she wanted to participate.

“I wanted to learn everything I could about the public school system. … I’m going to make myself a better board member, a better parent and a stronger advocate based on what I learned,” she said. “The most interesting thing I learned, as far as being a PEP participant, was about learning styles. We learned about how our learning is going to be different from our children. I’m also a teacher, so I found it very fascinating to learn about how my students might learn.”

Ayden resident Ashley Watkins wanted to learn more about how schools operate, so she can be a better advocate for her two children.

“I’ve always loved and appreciated what our public schools do for our children and communities, but I felt that if I had a better understanding of how they worked and why they do things a certain way that I could help others understand that too and become better advocates for our students and our teachers,” she said. “One of my favorite modules was on the school budget and how school budgets work … There’s a lot more involved than you would expect. It’s really interesting to learn.”

Toward the end of the program, each participant is tasked with completing a project that will enhance a school in Pitt County. Those projects ranged from beautification of schools to enhancing agriculture programs, according to Dibble.

Greenville resident Lori Jones created a new student welcome program at Grifton School.

“There are two student ambassadors who will be active participants in giving school tours to the new students, answering any questions they might have. The student ambassadors will also be spending two weeks with the students when they come in so they get more comfortable being a part of something. They’ll spend time with them during lunch and recess,” Jones said.

“The principal will be checking in with them to see if everything’s going well and if not, he’ll find out what the issue is. I’m gathering information for the families about what’s available in Grifton so they have this information in hand. It’s based on what I would want to know if I was moving into a new community. It’s in both English and Spanish since Grifton has a large Hispanic population moving in.”

While Jones does not have any children in Pitt County Schools, she felt it was important to learn more about the education system in North Carolina.

“Every child deserves a good education. Public school is usually their only avenue. It’s very different down here than it was up north. A lot of the children I’ve worked with (at the Boys & Girls Club) needed someone to advocate for them. Then they’d get a better education,” she said.

Next year, Parents for Public Schools will offer a program of workshops in addition to PEP. They are single sessions held in the evening. Each attendance area will have the option to host at least one workshop over the course of the year.

The next PEP will cohort will be held in 2020-21. More than 70 people have now graduated from the program.

The Times-Leader serves southern Pitt County including the towns of Ayden, Grifton and Winterville.