Program seeks to help parents teach their children

Published 8:47 pm Saturday, July 24, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A new program is helping young parents to realize education is a life -long process that should begin at birth.
Berrien County Intermediate School District's Parent as Teachers program, which kicked off in Niles this summer, is assisting teen-age parents, who need help raising their children.
The purpose of Parents as Teachers is to enhance child development and school achievement through parent education.
Sandi Gonzalez, the parent educator for the program in Niles, said the early years of a child's life are very critical for development.
Eighty percent of a child's brain is developed by the time they turn three years old, she said.
Parents as Teachers is a free program funded by Great Parents, Great Start grant. The only eligibility requirements are that the child be under three years old and that the mother give birth to her child as a teenager.
Gonzalez pointed out this program is here to give assistance to young parents, not to be critical of their skills.
As young adults, these parents are still in a critical stage of development themselves, she said.
She said a lack of knowledge and support may cause adolescent parents to become impatient and intolerant with their children, which can lead to an increased risk of child abuse.
The program's support system consists of four components: personal visits, group meetings, screening and a resource network.
A similar program, Mentor A Mom, is being kicked off through Niles Community Schools later this year.
Gonzalez said Parents as Teachers will be working with Mentor A Mom by providing regular play groups.
Earlier this week, Gonzalez held one of Parents as Teachers' monthly play groups at Riverfront Park.
Though there are only three families signed up to be a part of the program thus far, many kids who were already playing at the park joined in to help make it a large play group.
Gonzalez said the point of the play groups is to give the children a chance to interact with their parents and with other kids in the same age group.
Sandra Magana, 21, who is enrolled in the program with her two-year old son Javier, said the program is helping her son develop socially and educationally.
Magana, now pregnant with her third son, is also receiving prenatal advice through the program.
Whether it be information resources concerning potty training and behavior problems or assistance with food and housing, Gonzalez said the program's wealth of information is another bonus to participating parents.
The program can accommodate up to 30 families, for more information call Gonzalez at (269)845-0269.