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How An Education Experiment Borrows From Public Health

This week, we looked at a new experiment in Pasadena schools to help students by coaching their parents.

Parents attend a series of chats, or charlas in Spanish, to share their experiences and learn how to prepare their children for college.

News 88.7 Education Reporter Laura Isensee talks with one of the creators of the program, Matthew Barnes with F.A.C.E. Specialists.



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Matthew Barnes
Matthew Barnes, with F.A.C.E. Specialists, believes the highest level of parent engagement in education is to focus on the children’s academic experience.

Q: Where did you get the idea for these parent chats or charlas?

A: This came about from several different spots. One was something called Grameen Bank, which is a banking model in the third world countries that started when an individual realized that the community is more powerful than individuals.

Now the Grameen Bank provides low loans or small loans in low-income communities all across the world. So that’s kind of the first model of a community actually doing something different than an individual.

And then the second is the most powerful one, which is in a public health context, something called Centering Pregnancy. Centering Pregnancy is a model of working with young women, often times lower-income women who are pregnant and often times they won’t come to a doctor’s office very often.

But Centering Pregnancy created a model where there were group visits and these group visits caused parents to return on a much more consistence basis. They were much more compliant with the recommendations from the doctor. And what happened was there was a community that was built between the mothers in that doctor’s appointment that then began to help each other, support each other.

Q: Why did you want to take an idea from public health and try it in education?

A: Well, my background is actually public health. As I started getting in the educational space, I kept seeing these parallels about things that happened in health care, which is a medical model, essentially one doctor-one patient and seeing a similar language in an educational context, where one teacher-one child or group of children but the children don’t necessarily interact and certainly the parents don’t interact in any legitimate way or consistent way.

And public health says, it really talks about the power of the community and to the degree you can connect and create social structures within a community, now you have a chance to fight some of the basic illnesses, I’ll say, that plague a community — apathy, hopelessness, isolation — those are all combated with people getting together and working as a group.

Thankfully, you know, Pasadena [ISD] was open to exploring some different models of how we could do that.

Q: So let’s listen to what one researcher, Keith Robinson, found about parental involvement:

“Schools need to move away from giving a blanket message to parents that they need to be more involved. And instead they need to focus on helping parents find specific, creative ways to communicate the value of schooling that’s tailored to the child’s age.”

What do you think about that?

A: I actually don’t argue with that at all. I mean, I think what we’re arguing in our work is very, very similar to what he’s describing.

But we also talk about a community though and I think that’s the distinction.

When a community, 10 parents, all who know the child are all signaling the same message around the importance of education, when they all are saying we’re going to go to the library because it’s important for you to learn how to read, when they buy books for the child instead of a toy, when they talk about college and attend school and show that school is a priority, that is — There could be nothing more powerful to signal to the child about the importance of their education.

Q: What is success going to look like with this project? Better test scores? More students going to college?

A: For us, success is not only that the children are doing better academically, and we believe that is absolutely possible and probable with this work, but there’s a larger goal here, which is that families, that maybe low-income, maybe Spanish-speaking, they actually see themselves as a contributor, a net asset to the educational process.

Q: Thank you for coming in.

A: Thanks a lot, really appreciate it.