SIDNEY — The lunchroom at Longfellow Elementary School was transformed into a family dining area Monday when supper was served to kindergarten students and their families. The Feed the Family Night was sponsored by POWER (Passionate Optimistic Women Encouraging Results) of the United Way of Shelby County to help bring families together to promote education.
“This is an initiative of POWER,” said Jennifer VanMatre, who is a member of POWER and Women of the Moose, another sponsor of the event. “Our goal is to work with families — the parents and children — and encourage literacy in their homes.”
Longfellow School was selected for the program, said VanMatre, because it has the highest number of students on free and reduced lunches. They opted to focus on the kindergarten students for the pilot program.
“We had over 145 people sign up,” said VanMatre. “This was for kindergartners, their siblings and parents.”
After eating their spaghetti supper, various activities were planned for both the parents and students.
“The parents will go with the kindergarten teachers,” said VanMatre. “They will do activities with the parents and have specific learning skills the parents can work on at home with their children.”
The kindergartners and their siblings were divided into four different groups. They visited four stations to enhance the fun and learning that school provides. There was a listening station where the students were read a story. There was an arts and crafts station and a face painting station. One station was outside and the children played with hula hoops and did other activities.
“We have 28 high school students who volunteered to help us,” said VanMatre. “We are thrilled with the number of people who signed up.”
Supper consisted of spaghetti, salad, fresh fruit, cookies, rolls and orange drink, she said.
“This year the program was just for kindergarten students,” VanMatre said. “We’re trying to develop this into a pilot program that can be used for any grade and any school in the county.”
One goal of the program, VanMatre said, is the teach the parent how to talk to their children about school and learning.
“I’m really excited about this,” said Longfellow Principal Fran Dembski. “There was so much work done to put it together. I’m amazed at the turnout.
“Since it was open to the whole family, so that takes care of the child care need,” she said. “I think this is really good for the kids and I’m excited for the families. The support from the community has been great.”
Kindergarten teachers Kathy Gillman and Peggy Jacob have been planning for the dinner and what they will share with the parents. There are 45 kindergarten students in the building and 34 families signed up for the dinner.
“We want to explain fun ways to teach skills at home,” said Gillman. “We’ll be having giveaways to help them (parents) teach the skills at home.”
“We also have informational sheets for the parents,” said Jacob. “This will them them see how to do it (lessons) in a fun way at home.”
The teachers and parents, said Gillman, are “partners in learning.”
“We are appreciative and thankful to POWER and for the donations from the community,” said Jacob. “We appreciate that they were able to get the help and support for this program.”
Heather Murphy, of Sidney, came to the supper with her daughter, Kara Murphy, who is in kindergarten. She also brought her four other children with them — only the baby of the family stayed home with grandma.
“I came because I wanted to spend time with my kids,” said Murphy. “I left the baby with grandma so I could spend time with the older ones.”
Murphy said she was looking forward to the supper and program.
“I want to learn new ways that I can help her (Kara) at home,” said Murphy.
The supper is only part of the program involving the kindergarten students, said Nicole Switzer, a POWER member.
“The families have been extremely receptive to this,” said Switzer. “”We want to make sure the kindergarten students get off on the right path when they start school.”
Every Tuesday, said Switzer, as part of the program, POWER ladies are volunteer tutors in the kindergarten classes.
“Monthly, we have the mobile career lab here for programs with the kindergartners. Then quarterly, we’ll have a family meal,” said Switzer. “If the family attends all four meals, then they can win a family athletic pass for the 2016-17 school year for Sidney sports in a drawing.”
One goal of the program, said Switzer, is for the children to realize school is fun.
“We want them to want to go to school instead of staying home and watching cartoons,” said Switzer. “The kindergartners love the program. They are getting more attention through the tutoring. They think it’s fun.”
During the learning lab time, half of the students go into the mobile lab for a program. The other half of the students are spending time of the POWER volunteers. After 30 minutes, the switch and do the other portion of the event.
“The last time we did memory games,” said Switzer. “We got to play one-on-one with the students for 30 minutes. So there was individual time for the students. We worked on one letter — “F” — during the program. They learned F is for fun, Freshway Foods, fast and friendly.”
Freshway Foods also gave each student a football and apples.
“Our emphasis is on learning,” said Switzer.
POWER currently has 63 members. The membership fee is $50 and members must be a resident of Shelby County or work in Shelby County. POWER is a volunteer driven program within the mission guidelines of the Shelby County United Way.
Sponsors for the program, in addition to POWER, were The Spot Ladies of the Moose, McDonalds and Freshway Foods.
For more information on POWER, contact Switzer at 937-492-2101, ext. 103 or by email, email@example.com.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.