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School cuts highlight parent role as teacher

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Updated: September 19, 2013 9:52AM



Though I liked school, as a little kid I was anxious as each new year began.

If I were a parent sending a child back to Chicago Public Schools, I know those knots would be in my stomach again, and for good reason. No matter how CPS tries to spin the school closings, you’d have to be pretty naive to think there won’t be schools in upheaval. The massive layoffs and tough budget cuts the schools face have to have an impact, particularly in art and music education.

So while I am all for parents continuing this fight for quality education throughout CPS, I think it’s more important than ever to remember what a vital role parents play at all ages in their child’s learning.

Not long ago I read a story from PsychologyToday.com that a friend had posted on Facebook. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago shows that yes, parents talking to their infants and toddlers is important in building a strong vocabulary. But what is essential is putting action with those words, showing kids what those words mean. So just quizzing young kids with flashcards won’t necessarily up their vocabulary (forget those late-night infomercials).

Income and speaking well didn’t matter. As long as parents talked to their children and made the definition of words understood through actions and context (My example: “This is a chair, we sit in it”), they could build up a child’s vocabulary.

This doesn’t totally surprise me. I have known many people whose parents had neither money nor education, yet the parents valued learning and made sure their children did too. The Romanian immigrant mom who lived downstairs was someone who understood some English, but spoke even less of it. No matter. Every evening I’d hear the kids reading to her and explaining — in English — the stories. She knew you don’t have to speak a language to notice someone is stumbling over the words.

It’s imperative for parents to use whatever means they have, however modest, to better their children’s learning experience. The rich are doing so, according to a recent New York Times story. At one time, everyone, no matter their income, sent their kids to school and expected teachers to do the rest. In the last generation, it has become obvious, the story said, that wealthier parents are doing more to enrich their children’s education, particularly in the early years. This, according to the article, is one reason there is such an academic gap between rich and poor and even between rich and middle-class students.

It would be easy to be discouraged by this news. Instead, treat it as a reminder of what you’re up against in the world. Use available resources to do right by your child. Go to a public library. Get him — and yourself — a book (children learn by example) and start reading for pleasure.

Go to museums in the neighborhoods if traveling to those downtown is too costly. The DuSable is free Sundays; the National Museum of Mexican Art has no admission fee. Download the brochure the Humboldt Park Murals Art Program offers and do a walking tour of that community’s rich art (architreasures.org). Community groups and churches often have free musical performances; go.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for parents to fill in where school funding is failing.

Email: sontiveros@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SueOntiveros



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