The cafeteria at John Adams Elementary School in Torrance was packed, an unusual occurrence on a Friday before the start of school.

But instead of students eating their lunches, parents whose children were in a UCLA Young Scholars workshop occupied the cafeteria benches. Their teacher for the day was Theodore Sagun, a math coach for the Math Project at UCLA’s Center X; their lesson: “Supporting Your Children in Common Core State Standards Mathematics.”

“Parents are instrumental in their child’s learning of math,” said Sagun, after wrapping up the parents’ workshop. He serves on the board of directors of the Greater Los Angeles Mathematics Council. “We want them to be involved and to encourage their kids to develop critical thinking, problem-solving skills and communication skills. Homework presents parents with a fantastic opportunity to ask how the child may have arrived at a solution, how the child may have reasoned through a problem and if there are other possible strategies to solve a problem.”

Joanie Harmon/UCLA
Adanma Okoro (left) and Jayden Kim built their own game at a UCLA Young Scholars STEM workshop at John Adams Elementary School. Their parents then attended a math workshop offered by the UCLA Parent Project to help them understand what their children are learning in school.

During the workshop, Sagun quizzed parents on a math problem and encouraged them to recall their own approaches to math in elementary school. Then he shared ways for them to help their students be successful with homework and in the classroom.

The math workshop is one of many that are being conducted throughout the school year and the summer by the UCLA Parent Project, an initiative of Center X in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Workshops are offered to parents in schools throughout the Los Angeles Unified, Manhattan Beach, Lennox Elementary and Baldwin Park Unified school districts.

The program often works in tandem with professional development for teachers in math, English language arts and college prep classes, among others.

“We work with schools, parents and administrators to think about what parents would be interested in, and then design learning opportunities for them,” said Carolee Koehn Hurtado, director of the UCLA Parent Project. “We provide opportunities for parents to understand the professional development and instructional efforts at a school site, and have simultaneous parent workshops so that they can understand the new vision of the district, where instruction is headed and how to support kids.”

Koehn Hurtado said that the UCLA Parent Project aims to enable collaboration between parents and schools in order to bring about student success.

“We come from the perspective that parents are great contributors to their child’s education and can be partners with schools,” said the director. “There are a lot of expectations of teachers today. The UCLA Parent Project supports them by giving parents opportunities to learn about what teachers are doing, so it’s not only up to them individually to let parents know what’s happening.”

Koehn Hurtado, who also serves as director of the UCLA Mathematics Project, says that schools need to inform and support parents in understanding the current climate of changing standards. Students are being asked to engage in math, science and English in ways that are unfamiliar to their parents. These efforts to give parents insight into what’s happening in the classroom have “really started to change the dynamics between parents and schools,” she said.

“Parents are better able to help their children at home, and ideally, schools are learning from parents,” Koehn Hurtado said. “At first, kids say to parents, ‘You can’t really help me with my homework because that’s not how my teacher does it.’ It has brought us to the point where students realize there’s a lot their parents can do.”

“Parents are instrumental during homework time,” Sagun explained, “because it presents an opportunity to be encouraging and to support [children’s] development of perseverance and persistence. Parents should develop relationships with their child’s teachers to simply inquire about and monitor their child’s learning and to gather more resources to help them support their kids at home.”

Ada Hasegawa, who attended Sagun's math workshop, said her daughter expressed an interest in science after attending a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activity at John Adams Elementary School. This led her to enroll Ashley, who entered the second grade this fall, in the UCLA Young Scholars STEM workshop.

“Ashley has shown some interest [in STEM], like wanting to make medicine when she grows up,” said Hasegawa. “And she loves to participate in chemical reaction type of activities. Cause-and-effect visual stimulation is what really excites her. So when this opportunity came up and it was facilitated at her home school, it was a no-brainer that she would attend.”

Hasegawa, who is a system administrator at Northrop Grumman and whose husband is an engineer at SRD Engineering, said it’s important that parents emphasize the relevance of math and science in everyday life.

“I believe programs like UCLA Young Scholars will make an impact on my daughter’s future. This workshop gave her the opportunity to be exposed to what STEM is really about and how it is used in our daily lives,” Hasegawa said. “If my daughter can tap into the resources that UCLA Young Scholars program provides, it’s one step closer to her in succeeding in her academic future plans.”

Part of the UCLA Parent Project’s aim is to recognize parental concerns regarding their child’s experience in school. Hasegawa, for example, is concerned that educators do not always recognize individual styles of learning.

“Not all teachers teach the same way; some make it fun and easy to relate, while some are stricter than others,” she said. “Not all kids learn at the same pace or grasp information at the same wavelength. There are a lot of factors that play into this.”

Hasegawa says that ultimately, parents need to learn to adapt to the changes in education in order to better assist their children with homework and in school.

“Most of us are stuck in a traditional way of learning,” she noted. “Old habits are hard to break, even with all the information and resources given. As adults, we have to learn to adapt at the same time as our kids so we can better assist them.”

Read the complete story in Ampersand, an online magazine of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.