JACKSON, Miss. – Valeria Haley, 39, of Jackson was an unemployed, stressed out single parent looking for relief before participating in Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s first Parent Academy workshop in April 2015.
“That first class changed my entire life,” Haley said. “The classes were phenomenal. I can’t say it enough. All the questions I had on what to do next in life, they pretty much told me.”
Haley’s sons – Virgil Johnson Jr. and Jontue Johnson Jr., – now ages 12 and 8, respectively, have also reaped the benefits of the experience.
The Parent Academy workshop is offered by MPB’s Education Department and Springboard To Opportunities, an MPB community partner that connects families living in affordable housing with resources and programs that help them advance in school, work and life.
Haley lives in Commonwealth Village Apartments, and the Parent Academy workshop held one night a week for seven weeks took place onsite. Parent Academy has since extended to Lincoln Gardens Apartments near Commonwealth Village.
“We started having Parent Academy to emphasize literacy and S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities and to make sure families took books home each night,” said Shelia Brown-Robinson, MPB’s director of Early Childhood Education. “Our ultimate goal was to build home libraries.”
Parents from Commonwealth Village, which is near Dawson Elementary, were invited to MPB’s Parent Academy. “We knew that reading scores at the school were not very high, so reading was chosen as an activity for the parents and kids. In order to get kids reading on grade level, we had to go to the homes,” Brown-Robinson said.
During the workshops, MPB staff would assess the parents’ needs while reading and playing educational games with the kids. Parents were instructed on what to do at home to keep the learning going.
Haley began reading to Virgil and Jontue at night. To improve comprehension and make reading more fun, the boys would dress up and act out the characters in the books. Eventually, they had so many books, the “Haley Library” – a shelf full of books at their home – was formed, and the boys began reading to their mom. Virgil even created a sign-out sheet to ensure books borrowed by residents were returned. Learning new words is now a joyful experience for the family.
“My sons are very excited about being in different programs with MPB. They don’t miss MPB events if possible,” Haley said. “With a lot of residents that have been in the MPB programs, we notice a difference in ourselves. A lot of moms want to do better, but we didn’t know where to start. There are now moms who are impatiently waiting to be a part of MPB’s initiatives.”
“We went into the property to show them we have tools and resources to make things better. Parent Academy helped moms with not just academic skills but also parenting skills. They are very involved in their kids’ lives now. They visit the school, not just when the teacher calls, but just to see how their kids are doing,” Brown-Robinson said.
Dawson Elementary Principal Vicki Conley describes Haley as a “very supportive parent,” and Conley couldn’t be more pleased with the resources MPB’s Education staff provides Dawson.
“It has been awesome, especially with the professional development for teachers along with activities for students,” she said. “They provide tech time by bringing in iPads for students, afterschool activities on Fridays and incentives of celebration for students and staff. It has been really beneficial.”
Springboard’s CEO Aisha Nyandoro also notes the rewards of partnering with MPB and making a difference in Haley’s life.
“The hands-on learning instruction and modeling that this partnership provides to Springboard’s families directly aids in helping parents become their child’s first and best teacher,” Nyandoro said. “Springboard actively works with individuals to help them accomplish the goals they have established for their life. Val is simply one example of a shining star that we have had an opportunity to assist.”
For her efforts to recruit other moms and be an exceptional example of Parent Academy’s success, Springboard offered Haley a part-time job as a community specialist in May 2016. Seven months later she became full-time and hopes to buy a home soon.
“Val’s a testament to Parent Academy’s great success,” Brown-Robinson said.