Families and schools are better together

The last place parent Corlee Madge thought she would find a fun and inexpensive place for her family to spend an evening out was her children's school.

For the last six weeks Madge, her husband Allan, and their four children have gathered at John Tod elementary for a couple of hours on Wednesday night for supper, games and a chance to bond with other families.

"I think it's wonderful that it happens at the school. It's a safe place for families to go that doesn't cost money," Madge said Wednesday.

For the last six weeks Angela Lawrence, a behavioural consultant at the Kamloops-Thompson School District, and co-ordinator Merlene Sibley have gathered families at John Tod for the Better Together program.

Better Together takes families that may be disconnected from the school and gives them the chance to connect with the staff and each other.

"The whole focus is to increase the attachment between the family and the school and increase the attachment between family members," said Lawrence.

Children who are engaged with school and their parents tend to get better grades. But this can be difficult in some low-income neighbourhoods, she said.

So Lawrence and Sibley launched Better Together. Each session is hosted by teachers and begins with a supper prepared by one of the families.

The Madges prepared a meal of hamburgers on their night. Madge said the school provides food vouchers from Safeway and Extra Food to pay for the meals.

She said these are a big help because she is a stay-at-home mom, Allan is off work on disability, and money is tight.

Games are played once the plates and cutlery have been cleared from the tables. Then the teachers take the children into another room to play while the parents have coffee together.

Madge really appreciates this because it lets her get to know the other adults.

"I know a lot of kids at the school, but the parents tend to be at work when I pick my kids up. It gets people to strike up a relationship," said Madge.

She said the program has helped her children focus more in school because they interact with the teachers as people and not educators.

"It's now a place they want to be as opposed to they have to be. They see the school in a whole new way," said Madge.

Lawrence is happy with how the program played out during its inaugural year. She intends to bring it back to John Tod during the 2009-2010 school year.

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