To address the needs of older students who had been suspended or expelled or who had low academic achievement, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District decided to try a new strategy: providing services and a skills program for parents. As many of these students came from low-income Latino families, Newport-Mesa’s Project ASK chose a bilingual (English-Spanish) evidence-based parenting program, Parenting Wisely, which also features materials friendly to families with limited education.
The first step was to contact the families, by phone and in person, to invite them to take part in helping to change the students’ behavior. Amparo Ames, a Hispanic woman with broad credibility in the schools and community and Project ASK’s Family Outreach leader, says, “The most important thing in working with this community was to be respectful, compassionate, and a good listener. Even though I am Hispanic, I do not know more about their reality than they do.”
As the parenting program was implemented, the district collected data about its impact in order to measure the relationship between parental participation in the program and changes in students’ behavior:
- By the end of the first semester, the district saw improvements in students’ academic achievement, and the number of referrals to mental health professionals greatly increased. In addition, families began to share stories of improved communication at home.
- After six months, there were improvements in student attendance, discipline, and social behaviors, and incidents of truancy had decreased by almost 50%.
Word began to spread about the benefits of participating in the program. After the first year, the program had a waiting list.
Tracking and communicating this success in the district allowed Project ASK to expand parenting programs to parents of elementary school and preschool children, addressing behavioral issues before they became more critical and interfered with children’s academic success. In addition, Project ASK implemented a software system that tracks students’ progress in real time; it monitors student behavior, attendance, and academic outcomes to quickly identify students and families who need support. As a result, instead of intervening to address problems that exist, the district focuses on promoting positive behaviors and preventing risk behaviors in a culturally competent manner.