SALEM — On a cold night in January, the Bentley Elementary School held a graduation — but not for students.
Fourteen parents were honored for completing Making A Difference, a program to help adults assist their children with homework.
Mayor Kim Driscoll and Superintendent Stephen Russell attended, along with the graduates’ families. Several children were excited because they knew their mothers had been going to school just like they do.
Some of the same parents were also taking citizenship and English as a Second Language classes at Bentley. And they were getting homework assignments, just like their kids.
“We’d hear from parents who say, ‘We sit down together and do our homework together,’” said Gabrielle Montevecchi, the assistant principal at Bentley.
Since its state designation more than a year ago as a Level 4 school based on low scores on the statewide MCAS exams, Bentley has been working hard to improve. A major effort has been directed at parents, many of whom are poor or come from the Dominican Republic or other Spanish-speaking countries and, as a result, speak only limited English. In the past, many of those parents also had little interaction with the school.
Convinced that greater parental involvement in both school activities and academics is a key to turning around Bentley, Principal Renata McFarland has worked hard to get more parents to walk through the door.
Along with pancake breakfasts and pot-luck dinners, Bentley has been holding educational programs — none more novel than the homework class.
The idea came from the First Baptist Church, a small congregation on Lafayette Street that received a grant from the American Baptist Church to train adults in the community as homework mentors. The theory behind the program was that parental help at home has a lot to do with success at school.