KUED, Sorenson Unity Center, promoting education at home

Story and slideshow by DEREK SIDDOWAY

Take a look inside the Eccles Broadcast Center and view a Ready to Learn Workshop.

According to the 2010 Census, nearly 10 percent (9.5) of Utah’s population is under 5 years old. That is the highest in the nation. Yet Utah, along with North Dakota and Montana, are the only states that do not offer free public preschool.

Jacqueline Voland, community outreach and education services manager at KUED, thought that was a problem. So in 2001, when the Department of Education reopened another grant cycle for the PBS Ready to Learn initiative, she took action.

“Our early literacy campaigns were more focused on hard content and resources,” Voland said. “It is important that we have a one-on-one relation with the community and their services. The Ready to Learn initiative supplements education services and provides tools (for parents) at home.”

At its heart, Voland described the Ready to Learn initiative as seeking to increase parental participation and involvement in school and education. All of the programs are designed around Utah’s educational core curriculum and focus on infancy through third grade. The initiative combines educational programming and a “Learning Triangle,” consisting of “read, view and do principles.” The approach is based on the concept that children learn in different ways. Everything is designed to empower parents to take a more active role in their children’s schooling.

“We are trying to be a public vehicle to support education. The Learning Triangle is the basis for what happens in Ready to Learn,” Voland said. “We are providing (parents) with tools to engage their kids at home.”

The Ready to Learn initiative reaches out through a series of workshops in a variety of locations across the state to educate parents. Beginning with media literacy, the subjects branch into child development, health, safety, nutrition, self-esteem issues and anti-bullying, to name a few. Voland said the workshop themes are based on underlying issues that need to be continually addressed.

“The media literacy workshop is the start of anything we do,” Voland said. “Part of our mission is education of appropriate media: what, why and how you should be watching with children. Not all TV is for kids. Parents need to understand that while the TV is on (children) are consuming information in lots of different ways.”

Parents are the first teacher a child ever has, Voland says. As such they play an integral part in the equation for a child’s academic success. To aid parent involvement, the Ready to Learn initiative provides tools to make parental involvement easier. For every given topic, parents are given lists of children’s books and programming for their kids to enjoy.  To address the “do” part of the triangle, parents complete an activity with their children such as paper cup phones. This exercise teaches basic sound principles.

As part of the do, read, view theme every parent is sent home from the workshop with a book to build at-home libraries. They are also encouraged to acquire library cards.

All workshops provide bilingual presenters and material in Spanish and English if needed. As an added bonus partnering sites that provide a location for the workshop are required to supply refreshments or a meal to participants.

One agency that partners with the Ready to Learn initiative is the Sorenson Unity Center. Located at 900 W. 1383 South, the center collaborates with various nonprofit groups through its Programming Partnership. Voland said KUED had partnered with the Sorenson Unity Center in the past but it wasn’t until July 2011 that KUED was approached about joining the Programming Partnership.

“The early phases with the Sorenson Center relations have been good,” Voland said. “We are a nonprofit and in turn it behooves us to reach out and serve community with programming and services.”

As the Ready to Learn Program Coordinator at KUED, Elise Peterson is all about community outreach and the importance of parental involvement in education. The 28-year-old Peterson taught elementary school for three years before receiving her master’s degree in Child Advocacy at Montclair State University in New Jersey. She describes her position at KUED as the perfect fit for her degree and mission.

“These workshops have been so rewarding for me,” Peterson said. “It’s so important to make education accessible because for certain families school can seem daunting.”

Peterson said the KUED workshops serve 15 different sites in the Salt Lake area and average 20 parents at each workshop. Currently she presents monthly at venues like the Sorenson Unity Center. In addition to scheduling and presenting workshops, Peterson helps sponsor other activities through KUED such as parent or literacy nights.

Peterson presents a different themed workshop every month at the Sorenson Unity Center. She says most requests are for science and math, areas part of the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program being implemented by PBS and “Sesame Street” this season.

In keeping with the STEM theme, Peterson’s workshop at the Sorenson Unity Center emphasized these focus areas. Fun with Numbers and Science Exploration taught parents how to implement mathematics and scientific exploration into everyday life. Suggestions for parents included cooking with children, separating laundry into dark and light groups and other daily chores. Every activity in the presentation included exercises that parents could do without setting aside extra time.

One example Peterson recommended was the principle of shadows. Parents were challenged to view an online video clip from KUED and then read one of the children’s books such as “Light” by Molly Bang. Next, parents were encouraged to take their children outside to explore making shadows. Puppets were included in the workshop packet for children to continue their exploration.

“Parents are coming back (to the next workshop) sharing experiences of how education is happening at home and what they are doing with the activities,” Peterson said. “It’s great to see the program working and parents being involved with the materials at home.”

Nancy Holt was a first-time participant in the Ready to Learn Workshops. As a working mother, Holt was intrigued by the concept of implement teaching activities at home and exposing her child to a well-rounded education.

“I heard about the workshop through the Community Council,” Holt said before the workshop. “The concept of a parent workshop to help teach children to learn sounded interesting.”

The turnout to the Sorenson Unity Center’s November workshop amounted to four mothers, but Peterson feels a new parent attending was nonetheless encouraging.

Jacqueline Voland, the community outreach and service manager is satisfied knowing the Ready to Learn Initiative is serving the community and empowering parents.

“Every moment is a learning moment,” she said.