A few minutes with ... Lafayette schools parent involvement coordinator Kelly Gonzalez _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Kelly Gonzalez, parent involvement coordinator for the Lafayette Parish School System, talks to The Advocate Wednesday, November 4, 2015, in her office at the Vermilion Conference Center in Lafayette, La.

Kelly Gonzalez is a former assistant principal and district reading specialist who provides support to the nearly 40 Title I schools in the Lafayette Parish school system as a parent involvement coordinator. Title I schools are those with a high percentage of children from low-income families and are eligible for additional federal money to provide students extra resources. In addition to documenting school initiatives funded by Title I, Gonzalez provides parents and teachers resources to improve student learning.

What do you do?

A big part of Title I compliance is parent involvement. I put together a resource center where parents can come in and check out resource materials and games. I ask parents not to come in and check out a pretty book, but to bring their child’s report cards and tests, so it’s a prescriptive visit and I can suggest materials and games to help the child. I can also model for them how to help with homework. I’ll also go out to schools and give presentations. When I visit schools, I’ll bring a cart of supplies, and parents can check out the materials there. I believe in parent/family communication, so a lot of materials I have here foster interaction. I really want old-fashioned communication. When a child can explain an idea, he’s bringing it to a higher level. When you understand what your child is doing, you’ll also be able to better help him.

What kind of help can parents receive at the Parent Resource Center?

We can help them with strategies for helping their child with homework. I had a parent reading with a child and she would give him the word when he didn’t know it instead of asking him what he could do when he didn’t know a word. It turns out that he had all kinds of strategies, and she had no idea that he knew them. She now knows to help him and remind him when he gets stuck by asking, ‘What can you do?’ A classroom teacher doesn’t always have the time to sit down with a parent and show them how to work with the child. I model lessons and they leave here like Oprah: ah-ha! There are ‘ah-ha’ moments.

What other kinds of support do you provide?

I visit schools and those visits are twofold for parents and teachers. I go in for parent meetings. Sometimes the principal may have something specific he wants me to talk about and the resources that are available. I’ll bring my wares for parents to check out at the school. We also have parents who need help navigating our system. A lot of times, parents feel uncomfortable going to schools. They don’t speak our ‘school language.’ When they come in here, I want them to feel welcome and respected. That’s my job. Education is a three-legged stool: the teacher, student and the parent. The parent is just as important as the other two legs. When we teach them and show them how they can help their child, it helps the student.

What kind of work do you do with teachers?

I also work with teachers and provide sessions on how to work with parents, which is a Title I requirement. I always tell teachers that we have to expect that parents will get excited about how their child does. Always think that child can be yours. Imagine how you would want a teacher to treat your child. This is critical. We have to be a team. When we’re all on the same team, we can help the child.

Do parents need to make an appointment?

They don’t need to, but because I frequently visit schools, I suggest that they call and make sure that I’ll be here. They can call (337) 521-7174. I’m in room 104 of the Vermilion Conference Center. We’ll be moving to a bigger space soon, but I’ll still be at the Vermilion Conference Center.

Marsha Sills covers education for The Acadiana Advocate. Follow her on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.