Workshop equips parents with school tips

Donna Jones, director of secondary education for the school district, presented information about new graduation requirements and diploma options and other important information for parents and their students.

AIDA MALLARD/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 3:22 p.m.

A workshop titled "Empowering Parents to Become Change Agents in the Public School System" delivered on its goal to provide parents and students in Alachua County Public Schools with information about new graduation requirements and diploma options and the Common Core Standards implemented this year in middle and high school.

Parents also received tools to help their children succeed.

For Marquis Nelson, an 11th-grader at Newberry High School, getting up early on a Saturday to come to Gainesville to attend the workshop with his mother and brothers was time well spent.

"The workshop helped me understand all the options and requirements I need to graduate," Marquis said. "It was well-organized, detailed and in-depth with clear information."

Marquis was one of 50 students and parents who attended the workshop held Saturday at Bartley Temple United Methodist Church and sponsored by Sisters Helping Sisters in Need, a nonprofit group in Gainesville founded by Dr. Vivian Haynes Tinker, who also is an educator.

Students who attended the workshop with a parent received 30 community service hours.

Haynes Tinker was pleased with the workshop and the turnout.

"I feel great that a lot of parents came to support their students and to learn about new changes," Haynes Tinker said. "I wish more families would have taken the opportunity to learn about these new changes."

Donna Jones, director of secondary education for the school district, provided an in-depth and detailed presentation about graduation requirements, new diploma options and the Common Core Standards as she shared her experiences as a parent with a student who recently graduated from high school.

"I was an involved parent," Jones said. "I was not there on a defensive mode, but to let them know I'm the biggest advocate for my child." She said parents need to position themselves to utilize available resources, such as the Credit Retrieval Program, which enables students to make up credits and provides tutoring.

"If you need help," Jones said, "get help."

Jones spoke about the Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, for students with special needs and the importance of working with counselors to make sure the student is receiving the needed accommodations.

Starting this school year, Jones said students in grades 9-12 will be required to take one online course within the 24 credits needed to graduate. Parents and students also had an opportunity to discuss their concerns during a question-and-answer segment.

Jones also provided a folder packed full with information parents and students can use to navigate the school year. The packet included information on graduation requirements, diploma options, a parent guide and other information.

Jones also provided a list of 10 things for parents to do and know to be empowered to help their children, including getting to know their child's teachers, counselors and administrators; visiting the school and attending meetings and events; volunteering and joining parent committees, like the PTA; attending open house events; scheduling meetings with teachers at the beginning of each year; scheduling meetings with counselors to plan and review a student's graduation plan and status; using the Alachua County Public Schools homepage at; knowing important dates; teaching students to take personal responsibility for his/her education, and empowering their student to always do his/her personal best.

The workshop garnered praise.Belinda Nelson, Marquis' mom, said the workshop provided important information that she can pass on to other parents.

"I want my children to hear the message from others besides myself," Nelson said.

Regina Miller found the workshop very informative. "It helped me to know what my daughter needs for the ninth-grade," Miller said.

Alexandra James, who has two children in elementary school in Gainesville, said the information she received will help her daughter, who is a ninth-grader in South Florida.

"I will be sending her the information to make sure she's taking the classes she needs," James said.

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