Strengthening families within their communities and schools has always been an important part of the Delta Health Alliance (DHA). Now one program is building on that effort.
FAST, or Families & Schools Together, is bringing families in the Deer Creek Promise Community together in a 10-week program that focuses on the simple, but vital act of having dinner together.
“The program entails a family meal,” explained Kristen Hurns, program manager for DHA. “Each family has their own family table where they sit and eat once a week. Each table has its own family flag, symbolic of their family.”
Hosted by Leland School Park, the program targets parents with students in grades 6-8. Dinners are free and on-site childcare is offered.
“It’s another opportunity to build upon the bonds these families already have and to build new bonds,” said Hurns.
Recently, a graduation was held for five families that completed the program. The graduation included time for families to share their experiences from the program. It also included a subsequent free field trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
The same program is being offered to families in the Hollandale community, where about 30 people participated, Hurns said.
“Of course, families are a bit reserved at the beginning. But the dynamics change and are different toward the end,” she said. “People became very open about what they’re dealing with and felt safe about expressing their vulnerabilities.”
FAST grew from a previous effort to strengthen families in the Delta. DHA’s Parent Engagement Program had assisted parents by offering training by the successful Parents for Public Schools program.
Through the Parent Engagement Program, parents were exposed to a host of important lessons to help them and their children. They included:
- Learning how local school boards function and their roles as parents in engaging school board members with concerns and ideas.
- Understanding the college preparatory curriculum to assist their children in graduating from high school and entering college, including entrance exams and financial assistance.
- Examining statistics from student testing and comparing those with other schools in the state and nation to understand where their children rank with other students as they work toward graduation and college.
- Learning about community organizing as a means of shaping their schools to provide their children the highest quality education possible.
- Exploring school funding to better grasp how it affects the overall education of their children, including extracurricular activities.
“We wanted these parents to see and understand more than just what happens in the classroom,” said Hurns. “To be able to be a good parent, you need to know how to engage teachers and have a knowledge of the political and social landscapes that shape the public-school environment.”
DHA’s family centered philosophy is reflected in its highly successful school mentoring program called CARES, or Children Are Reaching Excellence with Support. Begun in 2013 in Indianola, CARES has established itself in Leland and Hollandale, as part of DCPC. FAST and CARES are creating another system of support for students.