On a late winter evening, 25 parents of Hohokam Middle School students and its feeders marked a milestone in their children's education. The parents successfully completed an eight-week Math for Parents Mini-Course, Thinking with Fractions, Decimals and Percents. The class, designed to give parents the ability to help their middle-schoolers with math homework, left parents with a new appreciation of numbers, despite their own unhappy experiences.
The February 26, 2008, event marked the culmination of an effort by a team of a dozen Tucson Unified School District educators. Their goal: to involve parents in the mathematical education of their children. Led by Shelly Duran, the Title I coordinator, planning for the mini-course began in the fall of 2006 and in the spring and fall of 2007 several one-session workshops took place at Hohokam and Lawrence (a feeder elementary). The success of these events spurred the team of educators to plan for a Math for Parents Mini-Course. However, this represented a significant escalation in effort on everyone's part because a Math for Parents Mini-Course involves a commitment of eight two-hour sessions. Would enough people sign up? The team took the plunge, feeling the move was essential for making the mini-course sustainable. It was hoped parent participants would become cheerleaders and promoters for the program, and could become co-facilitators in future workshops. The mini-course proved popular. Forty-four parents attended the initial session; 18 attended all eight sessions. Of those 18, nine are American Indian, eight are Hispanic, and one is Anglo.
The course began during the first week of January and met every week at Hohokam. Each session began with dinner in the school courtyard, followed by two hours of mathematics in the library. A Spanish language translator was present at all sessions to aid facilitators, who taught in English, and about a third of the parents, who preferred to speak and solve problems in Spanish. Additionally, a childcare center was nearby, staffed with certified district employees.
Five teachers from Hohokam and its middle schools worked the sessions. Two facilitated, while the others acted as aids, greeting parents, answering questions and offering assistance. For them to participate, however, they had to attend three all-day Saturday sessions, led by Christina Harmon, and Mary Schumacher, Director of The University of Arizona Math for Parents Program Center.
The last session of the mini-course began as the others had, with dinner and mathematics but ended with a celebration, although for the parents, it was both bitter and sweet.
"This is sad. What are we going to do when this is over? We want to do more math!" one parent said.
"This program is really powerful," said Pfeuffer.
"This is the greatest program I've ever seen for parents. Ever. In any subject," said Sheard.