Panther Parent Academy is an adult education program for Parson Hills Elementary parents that seeks to inform, equip and come alongside families to advocate for their overall economic, social and personal well-being.
When Camp War Eagle’s After School Program, SOAR, expanded to Parson Hills Elementary in 2015 part of the vision for expanding and growing was to kickstart a program for the families of our kids and the school.
During SOAR’s involvement with Jones Elementary, we came alongside an existing program that the school was running called Parent University. Parent University, or P.U. a weekly opportunity that incentivized parental involvement in classes and topic studies relevant to them culturally, economically and socially. P.U. started with the efforts of Principal Melissa Fink and other Jones teachers. The partnership with SOAR and P.U. led to unique opportunities for deeper partnerships with Camp and the school and strengthened or created relationships that had never before been accessed by our organization.
As a summer camp and an after-school program there is limited interactions with the families of the kids we set out to serve, so this development was indeed unmapped wilderness for Camp War Eagle. It prompted discussion for the new SOAR sight at Parson Hills, which was well funded by the Walton Family Foundation and a 21CCLC grant through the state, to have an element of its program be specifically dedicated to engaging the families of the school.
That led to the Parson Hills site starting what we now call Panther Parent Academy, or P.P.A. The goal of the program is to connect on a personal level with Parson Hills families, and especially those of our SOAR families through weekly gatherings where we facilitate adult classes about cultural, financial and personal issues, provide childcare and offer a family-style dinner. We have partnered with organizations all over the area like Freedom5one, Art Feeds, Team Springdale, The Jones Center, the Springdale Police Department and Springdale Schools.
Principal Heather Cooper, who came to the school four years ago, said it has been difficult to form much or any kind of parent involvement outside of what is mandatory. So when SOAR brought the idea to Mrs. Cooper she was thrilled about the possibilities it would create for the parents to get involved in something that could further the school’s relationships and opportunities for the families.
In previous sessions we have covered things like personal health and wellness and partnered with the school nurse and UofA med students, we also did a miniseries on safety and awareness and brought in the school’s resource officer to give a presentation on gang awareness and even did a miniseries with Freedom 51 on personal finance and budgeting.
This semester we are doing a series inspired by a very successful class at Jones Elementary P.U. called ‘pathway to graduation’ where we bring in guidance counselors from the proceeding schools our Parson Hills students will feed into to talk about the specifics of that grade level. Whether it be emotional health and wellness, athletic or extracurricular opportunities, or how parents can be involved we are covering it from middle school all the way to their college experience.
We also break up these classes with nights of pure fun for the whole family to let loose and have a good time with each other! The most recent one we had was a family BINGO night that was held in the school’s library. We had over 70 people in attendance- some who had never played BINGO before! It was a night full of pizza, prizes and giggles and something that is on the verge of becoming a tradition.
The program is small but growing and we are learning just how much these families care not only about themselves and their own well-being, but that of their kids and we are so grateful for a place to partner with them- we are excited for the coming weeks and years of this partnership!