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Earning A's in parenting

May 10, 2006|By Michael Miller

COSTA MESA ? It looked like a typical test in a portable classroom at Rea Elementary School on Tuesday morning. Eleven students listened as Liliana Zerouali, a family outreach advocate for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, read aloud questions in Spanish as the test-takers wrote answers.

The difference was that the students were all adults, and the subject matter was parenting.

In September, the school district netted an $8.23-million federal grant for Advocates Supporting Kids, a program dedicated to mentoring at-risk children and preventing school violence. The effort doesn't end with students, however. As part of the program, the district offers classes for parents who are struggling to relate to their children ? or who want to avoid struggles down the road.

"They learn that if there's a mom and a dad at home, they have to be enforcing the same rules," said family outreach coordinator Amparo Ames, who helped moderate the test at Rea.

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After the test concluded, the 11 women ? most of them speak Spanish exclusively ? received certificates and celebrated with pozole and fruit salad. The school was the third in Newport-Mesa this spring to complete its six-week parenting course, in which participants watch videos, fill out worksheets, and keep charts of how well their children are following orders at home.

The classes, which meet every Tuesday for two hours, begin and end with the same written test. In between, the instructors guide parents through a slew of difficult situations, with a book carefully analyzing the right and wrong ways to handle them.

A sample problem: A mother asks her daughter to wash the dishes, and her daughter brushes her off. Should she punish her daughter for arguing or explain that her behavior is out of line and give her a second job if she continues her protest?

The answer is the latter ? according to the textbook, which discourages yelling and other abrupt punishments. Although much of the material in the parenting course deals with adolescents, many of the parents in the class have much younger children and take it as a form of preparation.

"I need to learn this so I'll know what things to expect for my child," said Maria Vivar, whose two children attend Rea and Whittier Elementary schools.

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