Cassville increases staff for Parents as Teachers program

Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Parent Veronica Gemmecke and her daughter, Joey, engage in a parent-child activity through the Parents as Teachers program. The program helps supports parents to ensure their child reaches critical developmental milestones during the first few years of life in order to lay a solid foundation for their future. Services are offered from birth to school age. Contributed photo

Principal: 'We hope the addition of staff allows us to serve more families'

It is in the first few years of life that a child learns and develops the most, and during those crucial formative years, the Parents as Teachers program supports parents in ensuring that children reach critical developmental milestones to help lay a solid foundation for their future and give them the best possible start in life.

Known simply as PAT, the program is a respected resource for children and parents that promotes the optimal learning, development and health of children from birth to school-age through the in-home educational services of trained parent educators. It supports and engages parents because they are acknowledged as a child's best teacher and are thus instrumental to their child's development.

Parents as Teachers parent educators Challie Allison, left, Pam Ralls and Nola Nickols, will be serving families and children in the Cassville school district as parent educators. Allison has been serving in the position for over 10 years, while Ralls and Nickols are being added as part-time staff, providing services before and after school in addition to their current positions. Nickols currently serves as third-grade teacher at Cassville Intermediate School, and Ralls as preschool teacher at Cassville Primary School. By increasing staff, Cassville Primary Principal Catherine Weaver says the district says it's hoping to provide services to more families. Contributed photo

"The PAT program is designed to support not only the growing child, but also the parents," said Catherine Weaver, Cassville Primary School principal. "We know that 90 percent of all development occurs in the first five years of life. Parents have a crucial role in their child's education at any age, but especially during this time of his or her life. This program provides a hands-on approach to teaching parents the best way to aide their child during this time."

"The goal [of the program] is to build stronger families and create partnerships with parents and improve the outcomes of their students," said Nola Nickols, Cassville Intermediate School third-grade teacher. "And, to help parents be advocates for their child, because parents are the ones who are there with them every day. It also builds a better foundation [for the child]."

Along with one-on-one in-home services, other services include group meetings, annual screenings and resources for parents, such as games, songs and hands-on activities that help their child learn, develop and grow in crucial areas such as hand-eye coordination and gross and fine motor skills. Parents can also receive helpful information that explain what specific milestones their child should be hitting at each age and stage of growth.

The services can also help children develop socially, Nickols said.

"It helps them socially because we have group meetings and children get to interact with other children and families," she said.

Studies from the national program show that children involved in the program are significantly more advanced in development by age three, and score higher on school standardized tests.

The program is a free service for children in the Cassville school district. It has been offered by the Cassville school system in the past, however, the district recently decided to add two additional support staff to increase the number of prekindergarten children served in the district and essentially reach more families.

"We are excited to add additional staff support," said Weaver. "We hope the addition of staff allows us to serve more families in our community."

Current PAT staff includes Challie Allison, special services secretary at the primary school, who has been providing PAT services for over 10 years, and Nickols and Pam Ralls, primary preschool teacher, will be added.

Nickols and Ralls will remain in their current positions and provide program services before and after school. They are currently undergoing a two-week training this month, which includes a study of child development from birth to three years and model implementation training.

"Many of our PAT visits take place in the evening or after hours, so it will be beneficial to the program to have these three talented and well-trained ladies leading the way and working together to teach our smallest Wildcats," Weaver said.

Nickols said she was eager to take on the role of a parent educator.

"I just want to do the best job I can for the district and do what's best for kids," she said. "I'm very proud of our district and doing what's best for kids."

To sign up, parents should call the primary office at 417-847-2445, or stop by the office Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They may also visit for more information.

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