Rules of Engagement

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When Julie* and her sister Jennifer* didn’t want to go to school, they simply didn’t go. They couldn’t read, hardly knew any of their letters, and even the simplest math problems were far beyond them. Homework? What’s that?

Julie, 8, and Jennifer, 7, had practically been raised by a 12-year-old sister. Their parents were busy partying and playing. There were no rules for the children, for whom education was an afterthought, if it was thought about at all.

A little more than a year later, thanks to Larry and Claudia Williams, a pair of loving, compassionate, engaged foster parents at STARRY, the change has been dramatic and has set the stage for a lifetime of success.

From day one, the Williamses established structure and discipline, something the girls responded to immediately. Every day when they came home from school, they would sit down with Larry, separately, and read aloud for 30 minutes.

Every week night they would sit at the kitchen table with their both Larry and Claudia and do homework together. Every day, the parents spent at least two or three hours working with the girls on their reading, spelling, arithmetic and social studies.

“Since they started attending school regularly,” says Foster Care Case Manager Mary Anthes, “the girls have never had a report card that was not an improvement on their previous report card. Both girls have perfect attendance and the younger sister has been on the honor roll for the entire school year.”

“Remarkably, neither their history nor their present story is unusual,” said Richard Singleton, STARRY Executive Director. “In our Foster Care, Counseling, Emergency Shelter and SAFE programs, many of the children we see come to us with educational difficulties.

“They are behind in school, often because of habitual truancy, and the lack of parental involvement has meant they have missed the vital, secure attachment needed to feel safe, secure and able to thrive in the classroom. Parental engagement can make a world of difference.”

Throughout all STARRY programs – Foster Care, Shelter, SAFE and Counseling – counselors and caseworkers work tirelessly to help instill in children a desire to succeed school. Often that means making sure parents are fully engaged – loving, but disciplined – when it comes to classwork.

“In all of our programs, we know that one of the keys to a successful childhood is success in the classroom,” he added. “If we can help a child build that good educational foundation, it opens the door to life-long success.”

That is evident with Julie and Jennifer, two perfect examples of how consistency, structure and patience can pay off.

“There is no doubt in the mind of Larry and Claudia that these girls will go on to college and be very successful in life,” said Mary. “They believe that they were able to catch them in a good window to be able to turn them around successfully and help them achieve their dreams.”

* Names changed to protect confidentiality