Twenty-nine parents from Manuel Jara Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, set aside time for 11 weeks this spring to learn tools, skills and confidence to raise healthy, caring and responsible children.
A graduation ceremony was held on April 30 to recognize the achievement of the parents.

Many officials from the city council, county and school board were in attendance to celebrate the successful program.

Funded through gifts from Primera Baptist Church in Fort Worth, the curriculum, titled “Raising Highly Capable Kids—Communities Empowering Families for Success,” has been proven to help build stronger families.

Primera Baptist Church adopted Manuel Jara Elementary School two years ago and began investing in the children and families.

They started a well-received tutoring program. Pastor Rafael Berlanga built a relationship with the school teachers and Principal Marta Plata.

Berlanga and Plata talked several times about the need for parenting classes. When Berlanga heard through the Texas Baptist Hispanic Education Initiative about the curriculum, he knew it would be a great fit for the school’s need and approached Plata about starting a course in the spring.

“As a pastor, I have seen that a lot of times when parents just haven’t had the training on how to raise kids,” Berlanga said. “It was perfect for what I knew parents needed and what the principal was looking for.”

Plata was eager to begin the new program, offering incentives along the way to encourage participation.

Primera Baptist Church provided funds to buy workbooks for each parent, and Berlanga taught one of the courses.

Three classes were offered, two in Spanish and one in English. Teachers volunteered their time to provide childcare so the parents could attend.

As the weeks progressed, parents realized the importance of remaining committed and made it a priority in their lives.

Plata also called each parent every week to remind them of class or to let them know they were missed.

Throughout the program, parenting techniques and skills were taught to the parents. Open dialogues helped as they worked through the ideas and concepts.

“We had good discussions on our own childhood, our own experiences; some of the things we went through as children can help us in parenting today our own kids,” Berlanga said.

Importance was placed upon the parents being the first educators in the lives of their children.

While teachers spend six hours a day with the kids, parents have a significant impact on their lifelong development.

“This was such a validation for parents that they are the most important teacher in their child’s life, and we are here to support you and what you are doing with your child,” Plata said.

During the graduation ceremony, many parents gave testimonies about how the class impacted their lives.

“I could feel their gratitude for what they learned,” Plata said. “I wish every single school would do it. We are not going to affect real change until we affect the parents, until we affect the home. We need to support the parents and their efforts and what they are trying to do.”

Finishing the course was also a great accomplishment for many participants. One single mom only had a third-grade education and had never been through a graduation ceremony before.

“For many Hispanic parents, this is the only course or program they will graduate from in their lifetime,” said Gabriel Cortes, acting director of Texas Baptist Hispanic Education Initiative. “Graduating from something makes a lifelong impact in their lives and their families.”

Overall, Plata was extremely pleased with the results of the course and the impact she has seen already on her school campus.

Plans are underway to start a new session next year through a continued partnership with Primera Baptist Church.

“In public school we can’t talk about God but we have to live it,” Plata said. “Pastor Berlanga has been that to us. Not only did their church provide the funds to purchase the program, but he showed up to teach a class. The parents love him.”

“Maybe for the first time in their whole life, they saw someone Christ-like, really truly being Christ to them,” Plata said. “I absolutely admire him and know that truly God sent him to undergird what I am trying to do—what God is trying to do in this school and community.”

Kalie Lowrie is the new media manager for Texas Baptists. A longer version of this article first appeared on the Texas Baptists’ website and is used with permission. You can follow Kalie on Twitter @klowrie84 and Texas Baptists @TexasBaptists.

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