Dorchester 2 wants parents to be involved at centers

Early Childhood Service Coordinator Susan Gaston reads a book during story time at the Dorchester School District 2’s Parent Involvement Center.

brenda rindge

The door of the double-wide classroom trailer opens and the children come spilling in.

Andrew Tesk, 2, Derek Lipsey, 5, and 7-year-olds Keandra Dickerson and Samantha Greenman are greeted by Dorchester District 2 Early Childhood Services Coordinator Susan Gaston and teacher’s assistant Linda Huggins, but they barely have time to acknowledge the adults as they head straight to the shelves of books and toys that line the walls.

It may be summer, but the school district’s Parent Involvement Centers are open for business.

The purpose of the centers is simple — to provide parents the tools they need to enhance their child’s learning through play. The centers are funded through the federal Title 1 program, and they are open to anyone in the district.

“The idea is to try to get everybody as involved as possible,” said Mike Windham, district director of state and federal programs. “This year we are going to give a strong push and focus on parent involvement.”

The centers have been around for three years, but many people don’t know about them. They are housed in mobile units behind Spann and Knightsville elementary schools and Windsor Hill Arts Infused Elementary School.

They offer not only toys, books, games and other education materials for students, but also access to computers, where students can participate in the district’s summer learning program, CompassLearning, and adults can improve their English or learn another language through Rosetta Stone.

The materials can be used there or checked out.

“We have fewer people in the summer, but we want to keep the centers open so people can come,” Gaston said. “We want parents and children to bond with our schools.”

That’s how Sandra Greenman got involved with the center at Spann Elementary, where her daughter Samantha is a student.

During the school year, Sandra Greenman learned Spanish at the center while Andrew, whom she babysits, played educational games, learning colors and letters. She continued to come with her other charges after school let out.

“It’s good for their learning,” she said. “The kids think it’s fun and they don’t have to be as quiet as they do at the library. At the library, I feel like they are disturbing people. Nobody ever says anything, but that’s how I feel.”

As Derek and Andrew sit at a table playing with plastic food, Huggins asks questions.

“Can you find a yellow banana? What color is that apple?”

At the Parent Involvement Center, play is learning.

Gaston leads a fish-themed story time, reading a book called “Fish Eyes,” then leading a fishing game where the children try to catch paper fish in different colors and sizes, create a colorful fish craft, and sort and count Goldfish crackers. They end the hour by bouncing a stuffed fish on a parachute.

“When we do things, we talk about it,” Gaston said. “For instance, we don’t just give them a snack to eat. It’s a working snack. We talk about colors and shapes. We count. Early literacy skills are so important but many parents don’t think about doing things like that.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or