We all want our kids to get a good start, in education and in life. Those of us who support public education recognize that teachers and administrators are facing increasingly complex demands, often with diminishing resources. We have to realize the schools just can’t do all the work.
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 25, President Barack Obama said:
"The question is whether all of us — as citizens, and as parents — are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed. That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done."
A program in Hawaii has been saying that — and more important, doing something about it — for the past 12 years. Parents are a child’s first and lasting teachers. Think about it: A child spends 900 hours in school and 7,800 hours outside school (educator/author Jim Trelease, 2007). If we are going to make positive changes in education, we have to extend the goals of the classroom into the home.
A lot of parents do everything they can to help their children learn. Others feel it’s the school’s job. Some parents don’t know what to do, and many simply don’t feel they have the time.
How can we stimulate more parents to become active participants in their children’s learning?
In Hawaii, there’s a popular program called RAP, the Read Aloud Program. RAP is the brainchild of local businessman Jed Gaines, founder of the nonprofit Read Aloud America, whose mission is to build communities of lifetime readers.
Every other week during a school semester, RAP brings out an average of 350 adults and children to socialize, play games, listen to stories and share pizza. But what they’re mostly doing is learning about the joy and power of reading. Yes, reading.
At some schools, where back-to-school nights attract only a handful of parents, RAP brings in standing-room-only crowds. At one Leeward school, parents brought beach chairs to sit outside the windows of an overstuffed cafeteria so they could hear the RAP trainer talk. At another school, families spread blankets and sat on the school lawn because the cafeteria was too small to hold the 700-plus audience. Since its creation in 1999, RAP has served a cumulative audience of more than 240,000 adults and children.
RAP was founded to inspire families to read, but it does much more. It strengthens bonds between parents and children and opens channels of communication between schools and homes. Whole families participate: kids plus their parents, tutus and grandfathers, aunties and uncles, guardians, cousins and calabash relatives. They share an evening of fun and fulfillment that is increasingly rare. Where else can a family go to have fun together, for free? And, by the way, learn about books, get tips about reading and learning together, and reinforce shared values?
RAP is an example of how a simple thing like reading and spending time together as a family can energize education and improve the lives of our kids. We should be proud that such a program originated here in Hawaii.