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Parent University 101: Launching a Successful Event

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The inaugural Parent University in New Haven, Conn., attracted between 250 and 300 parents for a daylong experience in how parents can help their students excel, and how they can help themselves, too.

K-12 Parents and the Public interviewed leaders of this event to find out how they managed to generate such a large turnout, when not every Parent University is so well-attended, or well-received.

Susan Weisselberg, chief of Wraparound Services for New Haven Public Schools, describes an extensive planning period that included two visits to Boston Public Schools' Parent University, which has received national attention for its success.

It cost about $27,000 to put on the first Parent University New Haven, which included hiring a consultant who worked to bring shape to it and market it. "She did a lot of work in the community, talking to people about what kind of workshops they wanted to see," explained Weisselberg, who oversaw organizing from the schools' perspective.

For planning purposes, working groups were set up on a variety of topics, including:


  • Workshop planning, which gave presenters advice on conducting workshops, developed evaluations and worked on translations

  • Logistics, which included how to provide child care, food, and transportation;

  • Communications, which covered overseeing outreach to community organizations and parents to create excitement and boost attendance; and,

  • Certification and incentives, which coordinated certificates for attendees and raffle prizes.

The end result was a program with more than 40 workshops, including some in Spanish, offered in three time blocks. At lunchtime, New Haven native and Harvard lecturer Karen Mapp gave a presentation on how parents can support their children in school.

A wide variety of workshops were offered, including college planning, what parents of athletes should know, and how to read and do math with your children. One of the most well attended was "Addressing the Needs of Urban Boys." For parents, computer training, job preparation, and entrepreneurship classes were offered. Participants could register online, or by phone.

In addition to the free educational programs, Parent University New Haven provided free bus transportation from 12 school sites to the community college where it was held; free breakfast and lunch; free child care by certified staff; free parking; and raffle giveaways, including a computer, netbook and bicycle.

"We have parents who have been wanting this for years. They were so excited to participate; we have a whole network of parents who wanted this to succeed," said Weisselberg.

Michelle Sepulveda, one of those parents, agreed. "It's one thing to be engaged. It's another thing to get the tools so you know exactly how to be engaged," said Sepulveda, who was one of the planners helping to shape the university.

Mary Rosario, a mother of four New Haven Public School graduates who also helped organize the event, said, "People kept coming up to me and asking when we're going to do it again. They were so excited, and so was I."

The next Parent University New Haven event will be held in the spring. In the meantime, workshops will be offered on a smaller scale in neighborhoods and at local schools.

"The only way for this to work is to do it collaboratively," said Weisselberg. "For any other community considering it, I would suggest that—rather than reinvent the wheel—they visit a community that has done it successfully."

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