Minneapolis Public Schools offer continuing parent education

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Minneapolis children will not be the only ones going back to school this fall. Many parents will be attending a seven-week Continuing Parent Education Opportunity (CPEO) course at one of the Minneapolis public schools.

CPEO is a program the Minneapolis school district started in 2008 and operates in roughly 28 schools (elementary-high school) each year.  The curriculum is based on the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) developed more than 20 years ago in California, based on the diverse populations of families of students that attended public schools. The philosophy behind PIQE is that all parents love their children and want a better future for them. Funding for the program comes from Title I dollars.

According to Damon Gunn, program coordinator for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Office of Family Engagement, the program has four goals:

  • Gives parents a better understanding of the school system;
  • Offers creative ways for parents to support their kids at home (homework help);
  • Helps build relationships with parents, school and staff; and
  • Prepares students for college.

These program goals are addressed differently depending on whether parents have children at elementary, middle or high school levels.  The elementary level looks at understanding the school system and working on building blocks, such as self-esteem. At the middle school level, the curriculum focuses on the adolescent, how to motivate a student to read, and do homework, along with how to handle distractions such as peer pressure. The high school level discusses college options, testing and financial aid.

“Our kids are brainwashed in a lot of things. They need to be brainwashed in the right things.” Gunn said, “The right things being that they are smart enough to go to college and to let them know that at an early age they will go to college.

“Education is truly the way. They need to know education will open up so many avenues for them.”

Two facilitators lead each session. The program is available in four languages: Spanish, English, Somali and Hmong. Handouts are also given out in the language of the participants. The handouts are some of the most comprehensive materials for helping parents guide their youth to college.

Gunn said that what participants in the program like most is the interactive setting.  The learning comes from each other and not from lectures by the facilitators. 

Tex Ostvig has been a CPEO facilitator for 2 ½ years, leading programs at each level from elementary to high school.  He said the program is valuable because parents are introduced to numerous topics, such as parental engagement, academic success, positive youth development, and college access.  The curriculum is a version of experiential learning that involves and engages parents from all areas of life as well as various cultural backgrounds.

“Schools are striving to make every student college ready,” Ostvig said. “A successful student has the support of their school, community, and family. The partnerships of the schools and CPEO send a message to the community, youth, the parents, the families and our society, that they believe in providing a pathway to college. The program provides education to the parents in the schools that their youth are learning in. When the parents are learning, then families are learning and when that happens, the spirit of learning begins to flow from the families into the schools and the classrooms. Everyone wins, students, parents, and schools.”

Ostvig said that if parents have the opportunity to take the class they should take it.

“The valuable lessons learned will enrich your own life as well as your students as it pertains to pursuing a pathway to college,” he said. “It is also one of the single events, that can place each parent in the role of changing our society, community and families through the pursuit for higher education.”

Parents who take the program come from all education, economic and cultural backgrounds.

“It is for all parents,” Gunn said.

Edison High School parent Marcia Thomas took a CPEO class last year. 

“I had heard many folks throughout Minneapolis rave about the CPEO courses and I was interested in meeting other parents of Edison freshmen and sophomores,” she said, and added that the high school CPEO focused on giving parents useful information geared at specifically toward preparing for college. Some evenings included guest speakers, such as the principal and a financial aid counselor. One evening the class took a field trip to the University of Minnesota.

“It’s a great way to meet other parents, find out what’s happening at your school and learn specifics about applying for college or other post high school opportunities,” Thomas said.

Gunn has had everyone from grad students to lawyers attend the course. One participant said, “I thought I knew it all but I don’t” Some parents even take the course a few times.

“It’s truly about our parents and family and they really make the most of their classroom experience,” he said. “No one is preaching to them. We learn from each other. “

One of the parents in Ostvig’s class commented that when she first started the class, she was skeptical about any of her children ever attending college, but that the class had changed her thinking.

“Not only did the class help her understand the need of continuous education beyond high school for her children,” Ostivg said, “she realized that the benefits could come to her if she enrolled in college.”

Upon completion of the course, parents receive a certificate of graduation from the program, a certificate for a free community education class, and a possibility for a college scholarship to the University of Minnesota or MCTC (certain criteria must be met).

Since its debut in 2008, more than 2700 parents have graduated from the CPEO program.  Because of CPEO’s success, St. Paul, Brooklyn Center, Duluth and about seven other districts have now adapted the model or are starting this year.  

This fall’s program will kick off two weeks after the start of the new school year in 5five or six Minneapolis schools.  The program runs seven consecutive weeks for 2 1/2 hours, one day a week

To find out if your school will offer a CPEO course, contact your school directly or call the Minneapolis Public School Family and Community Engagement office at 612-668-0640.

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