"Even before I had him, they gave me some books abut what to expect," Stokes said. "My educator would drop by with pamphlets about what he should be doing, what to look forward to and about them sleeping through the night."
In 1981, Missouri began Parents as Teachers as a pilot project for 380 families in four public school districts. On Tuesday parents and politicians celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Parents as Teachers program, a home-based early childhood initiative that has spread nationally and internationally from Missouri.
Tuesday's event celebrated the 1984 passage of legislation requiring schools statewide to provide parent education and developmental screening.
Supporters hung hundreds of paper plates bearing children's hand prints in the Missouri Capitol Rotunda.
Sikeston R-6 Parents as Teachers coordinator Jenny Hobeck said due to preschool screenings this week, no one from the Sikeston program was able to attend the celebration; however, they did send paper plates of their children's hand prints. Sikeston's Parents as Teachers provides services to between 700-750 families -- almost 50 percent of the district's potential clientele. They recruit through word-of-mouth and by putting fliers in doctors' offices. They also have a working relationship with the hospital for newborns and work with Women, Infants and Children program.
Parents as Teachers is a wonderful program, commented Paula Hayes, program coordinator New Madrid County R-1, adding that it was listed in Parents magazine as one of the top 10 children's charities that deserve support.
New Madrid County R-1's program serves close to 600 families, noted Hayes, who is in her 11th year working for the program.
"Parents as Teachers' mission is to provide the information, support and encouragement parents need to help their children develop optimally during the crucial early years of life," Hayes said.
The program acts a
s a liaison between parents and outside resources, Hayes pointed out.
"I think parents have found it to be a really good support system," said Dr. Sharon Gunn, assistant superintendent of elementary and special services for Sikeston R-6. "What we've realized from it is we've been able to catch delays in children. We've developed good working relationships with the families and they feel more comfortable when a child comes to school setting."
Gunn was the Kindergarten Center principal when Parents as Teachers formed at Sikeston in 1985.
"We started Parents as Teachers with one parent educator and we now have four -- but we want five," Gunn said.
Parents as Teachers programs are now offered in all 50 states and several other countries, according to the St. Louis-based Parents as Teachers National Center.
After nearly 20 years of service, Hobeck said the basis of Sikeston's program has remained the same.
"We basically serve as support and give them new ideas. I like it because we are the first link to the public school system," Hobeck said.
Of course curriculum has been updated through the years, but the main emphasis is placed on home visits, Hobeck noted. "It's through the home visits we meet parents and see how a child reacts and learns in their home. We get to be on the parents level," Hobeck said.
Renee Roach of Matthews said the program has helped raise her awareness of what to expect as her 10-month-old son, Jared, continues to grow.
"My educator comes once a month, and she just evaluates him," Roach said. "She gives me a lot of helpful ideas on how to raise him and what he should be going through at his age."
For example, Roach's parent educator watches how Jared plays and reacts with certain toys. She checks to see if he's crawling right and pulling up the way he's supposed to, Roach explained.
Both Hayes and Hobeck
said they've noticed more multicultural families making use of the program.
"Families are changing," Hobeck said. "They're a lot more diverse -- not only with the black community, but the Hispanic community. We serve a lot of families of Pakistan and Asian descent. We're serving a wider variety in the community."
Last school year, more than 164,000 Missouri families participated in the program -- about half of those eligible. School districts are budgeted to receive nearly $28 million from the state this year for Parents as Teachers programs, which also may get money from local districts, communities or private entities.
The Associated Press provided some information for this story.