It’s become a daily routine at Christina Peters’ cozy home: Her children sit down at the dining room table and play games with Mom.
Her 6-year-old son, Javonni, who has struggled academically and is repeating kindergarten this year, excels at a sight word matching game - quickly rearranging small notecards to find those with identical words like “go,” “the” and “is.”
At the start of school in September, Javonni knew seven sight words. By November, when his mother met with his teacher, Erika Rudd, he knew 19.
Peters said participating in Academic Parent-Teacher Teams at Whitney Avenue Elementary has made a difference for Javonni and his two sisters.
APTT is a process that aims to increase parental involvement in a student’s education by reinventing the traditional parent-teacher conference model. Parents still have one individual meeting with the teacher, plus an additional three group meetings throughout the year with other parents in the class.
“It’s a new way for parents and teachers to work together, to learn from each other,” Rudd said. “Usually at a parent-teacher conference, it’s the teacher talking to the parent about the child’s growth. It’s more the teacher talking at the parent. At an APTT meeting, we’re looking at a couple skills and a couple games that parents can play at home that really affect student achievement.”
Each meeting is focused on two standards - one each in English Language Arts and math. A key component of the process is setting “S.M.A.R.T.” goals for each student: goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
These goals are based on data. At each group meeting, teachers present a full graph charting their class performance. Parents receive a folder containing an anonymous number that helps them identify their student’s score and see where their child is compared to other students in the class.
“I like the collaborative atmosphere of it, I like the data and I like being able to (measure) my child’s growth, and then also (compare it) to the rest of the class,” said Peters. “It actually helps me advocate for them because I can see if they’re falling behind the rest of the class.”
APTT group After analyzing the data as a team, parents set individualized “S.M.A.R.T.” goals and are given the tools they need to help their children succeed: simple games to test skills like a math game using popsicle sticks or a word game using Legos.
“A lot of time parents will come to us and say, ‘I don’t know how to help my kids,’” said Whitney teacher Michele Sweet. “We design these activities to give to them with all the materials, and it’s like, ‘Here you go. This is what you can do.’”
Sweet and Rudd piloted APTT at Whitney Avenue Elementary in the 2014-15 school year. This year, the rest of the school joined in - and teachers at seven other schools across San Juan Unified (Mariposa Avenue Elementary, Lichen Elementary, Dyer-Kelly Elementary, Howe Avenue Elementary, Will Rogers Middle, Starr King K-8 and Kingswood K-8) launched their own pilots. The program is research-validated and funded through San Juan Unified’s Local Control and Accountability Plan.
For Tresa Imahara, a speech and language pathologist at Mariposa, the model has reinvigorated her relationship with parents of students with special needs.
“Back-to-school night has become very mundane for them,” she said. “APTT was a new approach. The parents are feeling empowered that they can be involved in the process. They like that they are able to see their child’s progress directly correlating to the work that they’re doing at home.”
The group meetings also foster a stronger sense of community, Imahara said, as parents are able to meet one another face-to-face, bond and exchange ideas. Childcare is available at the meetings, along with translators that help break down language barriers.
Research has shown that parental involvement is key to student success, said Bonita Aytch, San Juan Unified’s Family and Community Engagement coordinator.
“(Students) are only in school for six hours,” Aytch said. “A lot of the time, they’re at home.”
In the Peters house, the APTT games have become part of life. Javonni loves the word games, but gets a touch more competitive when it comes to math.
“This is an emotional time,” Peters said, laughing on a recent Friday afternoon as the two played “Zap,” a math game with popsicle sticks. Javonni started to fidget as she pulled ahead. “You can see them grow, see them start to get the math facts or read the words.”
Javonni is now on target to reach grade level, “which is huge for him,” she said.
San Juan Unified’s Family and Community Engagement department offers Academic Parent-Teacher Team training to teachers. Call (916) 971-7929 to learn more.