April 1, 2010

State Funding Cuts Posing Threat to SCR-I’s Parents as Teachers Program

by Robby Lewis

Jenn Beeler is a teacher at Scotland County Elementary School, but she’s a parent first.

And when Beeler noticed that her daughter Natalie was showing signs of delays in her speech and motor abilities, Beeler was happy that she and her husband didn’t have to look far for help.

The Parents as Teacher’s program came to their aid by helping Natalie develop at her own pace. The PAT also gives her parents some much-needed encourage-ment.

“I’ve seen improvements since they’ve given us ideas of activities that we can do,” Beeler said. “Just helped us to remember to relax. If she can, she can and if she can’t, she can’t. That way, we can just be there to help her at her own pace.”

The program, which is in its 26th year, is district and state funded and is voluntary and free to all parents. PAT helps parents with children that range from prenatal to pre-kindergarten.

During the 2008-09 school year, 131 families received personal visits, 177 children were served and 843 contacts were completed in Scotland County.

What makes these numbers truly amazing is that the program only has two employees in Scotland county: PAT Coordinator Stephanie Shalley and Janie Parton.

Stephanie Shalley said their mission is to have children ready to learn from the time they are born. In order to do this, they must start as early as possible.

“We identify delays,” Stephanie Shalley said. “If we identify a delay with a child early we can get them services.”

Stephanie Shalley added that children who do not end up needing help can still benefit from the visits.

“Even if they don’t have a delay that’s significant enough to warrant a referral for special programs, they give them ideas and help,” Stephanie Shalley said.

Stephanie Shalley and Parton try to visit each child once a month. It is not mandatory, but they want to go above the minimum standards.

At these visits, they study the child to see that they are where they should be, bring new games that are at the same level the child is at and give him or her lots of attention.

SCR-I Elementary School Principal Rhonda McBee said the program is as important to parents as it is to the children.

“It gives parents confidence,” McBee said. “A lot of new parents haven’t had children or been around kids, they go in and they reassure them, give them confidence. ‘You’re doing okay, but this is what you might expect. This is something you might try.’”

Other studies show that PAT children scored higher in reading and math at the end of first grade and PAT parents take a more active role in their child’s elementary education.

It is hard to find anything negative with the program, but according to Scotland County Superintendent Dave Shalley the state funding could potentially go down.

Dave Shalley said he thinks the state could potentially cut costs from PAT because the cuts can be made by the state without accusations being made that they tried to cut costs for education.

“My opinion is they are looking for ways to cut funding without getting it to the foundation formula, which is the base funding,” Dave Shalley said. “When you fund education early, several categoricals go with it. Transportation’s not in that formula. PAT is not in that formula, so it becomes kind of a political tool. Where somebody can say, ‘Well, we voted to fully fund the formula for education, so we haven’t cut education.’”

Dave Shalley said the program is funded roughly 70 percent by the state and 30 percent locally. If the state funding decreases, the program will have to change.

“PAT is mandatory,” Dave Shalley said. “We still have to have it. There’s still funding in there, it’s just the amount of appropriation has gone down.”

Since PAT is required by Missouri State Law, it won’t go away, but the way it is done in Scotland County will be different. The difference that is probably the biggest concern is that the program could no longer be offered to all families.

“We’d probably have to go to one teacher,” McBee said. “We’d probably have to start serving high-needs families first, and everybody else would be secondary.”

If this becomes the case, children who would’ve benefited from these visits will not be fully prepared to start school.

“They’ll come into kindergarten and will be behind from the start,” Dave Shalley said. “Usually when they get a slow start, sometimes they’ll never catch up. Sometimes it takes a long time to catch up.”

McBee added that not having the visits could have a negative effect on those children that don’t need special services.

”Some of the kids that could’ve been accelerated might not reach their potential either because they didn’t have those resources,” McBee said.

Beeler, who is expecting the birth of her second child in July, said it is important for all parents to have the opportunity to let their kids participate.

“It’s very important,” Beeler said. “You can be a parent on your own, but it sure is nice to have a community help you. To have that village around you to help raise your kids. It’s nice to have somebody there always in your corner, always backing you and encouraging you.”

Last year, the PAT created a scrapbook, which consisted of pictures of families that used PAT and stories that they included. The PAT then brought the scrapbook to the state representative.

A petition was also formed for people to show their support for the program.

The greatest way that residents can help the PAT is to let their voices be heard.

“Let their representatives and lawmakers know that they think it’s an important program,” Dave Shalley said. “If we’re going to have any impact then the voters have to let their representatives know what’s important to them.”

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