Visits build connections

FAIRMONT – Students in Betty Egan’s class at Fairmont Elementary School get excited about Fridays, and not just because the weekend’s around the corner.

“We were talking about it today, and the students say how much they love Fridays because we always do something fun,” Egan said. “And I do too. Not that I don’t enjoy every day I spend with these students, but we look forward to it because it’s so special.”

In Egan’s 20 years of teaching, she has always wanted to have more time with the families of students.

“I would always say, ‘This week, we’re going to do this,’ and then something would come up … I realized the only way I was going to make it happen was to put it on the schedule.”

This year is the first for “Family Fridays.” Projects vary from a walk to a lake to obtain a water sample to examine in the classroom, to making salsa and Super Bowl snack mix, to simply reading together.

“The kids get excited about their parents coming in and interacting with them,” said Laura Lutz, one of the parents who regularly visits. “It doesn’t matter if they’re carving a pumpkin or reading in a tent. It’s just something that you don’t usually do.”

“What I’ve really noticed is that interaction,” Egan said. “The best thing is to see that, how the child’s eyes light up when their parent or grandparent shows up and they’re able to share what they are doing here on a day-to-day basis … Seeing them so proud, and seeing that connection is so precious. There’s usually a gap between their lives at home and at school, and this has helped bridge that gap.”

The more regular interactions have helped not just the students but also the parents, and Egan admits it’s helped her as well.

“It’s such a positive for the child, but this is the best feeling I’ve had in 20 years with parent communication. I’ve had 20 good years of teaching, but this is different because there is more connection with the parents. Conferences are much more comfortable, phone calls are easier because we’re already used to talking to each other.”

Students also get a chance to bond with other parents and adults.

“From the point of the kids, they’ve become much more social,” said Marcia Correa, another of the regular parent visitors. “Those that are shy are more friendly when their parent is around, and they also learn how to share their parent with somebody else. As a parent, I’ve also found it’s easier to assist my child at home because I know what they expect and are used to at school.”

The presence of “regular” parents also has made it easier for children whose parents are unable to make it to the Friday afternoon events.

“They’ve become attached to other parents,” Egan said. “It used to be when parents came to an event, and a child didn’t have a parent coming, you would see how sad they were. But that doesn’t happen anymore, because if their parent isn’t there, there is a friend whose parent is there and they know them, and they’re OK.”

“I feel a warm welcome, so when I come in to help, I can jump right in and start helping,” Lutz said. “I wish that more of the teachers would do this.”

But having the time together – parents, teacher and child – seems to put all on the same page.

“At home, there is more of a partnership, and they’re more expressive,” Correa said. “It’s not just parent and child.”

“We look forward to every Friday, but now it’s super special,” Egan said.