By Ted Godshalk
When most young children are first beginning to speak they utter one favorite phrase many, many times over. With my child it was, “ whasat?” and his question was always the launching pad for long discussions about butterflies, trash trucks, graham cracker chemistry or one of the other limitless interesting things around the house. Children come into this world with an innate and insatiable curiosity about things. It is this time when everything is new and the child’s brain is growing and building all of the connections at a rapid rate, that a parent’s patient attention is invaluable. This attention to a child’s growth and development is the focus of the Parents As Teachers (PAT) program.
The PAT program started in 1981 in Missouri, and the National Center was established in 1987. PAT works with the mission to teach parents about the key milestones of a child’s growth and how to encourage and stimulate this growth. It was in 1987 that then Assistant Superintendent George Cameron of the National School District observed the Missouri model and decided that National City needed the same help. The PAT program is now run out of the collaborative Family Resource Center at Kimball School. In 1989, the program won the prestigious Golden Bell Award for excellence in educational programs in California. While the school district recently took some heat over discontinuing a childcare center, the PAT program remains in operation thanks to grants from the First Five/Prop 10 tobacco money and the school district. I think that care of the child should come before childcare and the PAT program is dedicated to this idea.
Young children and their parents continue to receive training through the PAT program. In home visits with a Parent Educator, a parent discusses the benchmarks of their child’s development. When the parent recognizes that an eight to 14 month old is ready for make- believe play then the parent becomes the fellow astronaut, chef, cookie monster, or vaquero. When the child’s independence starts to kick in around 2 years of age you know it: the child says, “I can do it, I can do it,” with growing frequency the PAT parent knows to give simple responsibilities to the child. Self-help is one of the skills the PAT program works to foster. A five year old with this skill should be able to perform better in school and other social situations. When the child’s vocabulary needs expansion, the PAT parent knows the place to hang is at the public library.
National City ‘s program has been coordinated for the last 10 years by Ms. Lydia Rodriguez. Lydia and her four Parent Educators have served over 2500 families and are currently working with 123 families. Lydia is very proud of the fact that National City’s PAT program was the first in California and is the training site for California. She is right to be proud. This is a program with positive results. Research on sixty-four three year olds in National City indicated that they performed “ahead of schedule” (beyond the norm for their chronological age) in tasks, which measure communication, physical, cognitive, social, and self-help skills. But there is more.
PAT parents are more likely to read to their children and 75% report that they regularly take their child to the library. PAT Parents take an active role in their child’s education with over 67% volunteering in the school. PAT children are more ready for school and score higher on standardized measurements of achievement. PAT children, in addition, have a 95% attendance rate during their schooling. All of this adds up to an investment return unattainable in stocks, bonds, and Southern California property today.
What would our community be like without Parents as Teachers? Some preschoolers might not be ready for puzzles, paint, and group work. They might go to school and be in a classroom with no parent volunteers assisting the teacher. Some other children, lacking a rich and early at-home education, would certainly come to school without the all-important prior knowledge. More classrooms would lack the kinds of inquisitive questions teachers use to expand on the mandated state standards. And crucially, fewer parents would know that there are support services available to them and their children, often within walking distance of home.
Core values are not often reducible to a bumper sticker, but in this case the PAT program fully embodies the sticker seen on their office wall. It reads, “I am my Child’s Best First Teacher.” I am proud to know the dedicated PAT educators and I am thankful they have helped my family and my community.
The Parents As Teachers program celebrates its 18th year on Thursday, May 12 from 10 AM to 12 noon at the Martin Luther King Center in National City.