By SHANNON PHILPOTT-SANDERS
While the growth and learning of elementary school children is the primary focus of diocesan schools, Sister Thea Bowman in East St. Louis has expanded its educational endeavors to the families of students with the creation of the Family University Program.
“We focus on modeling behavior and habits,” said Principal Dan Nickerson. “We encourage families to take an interest in what students are doing in the classroom, which leads to more student success.”
The program, which has been supported and implemented by the school’s administration, staff and teachers, includes activities each semester that students and their parents (or guardians) are required to attend together.
“We want them doing things together,” said Nickerson. “We see that when the families are comfortable in the school and the students see their family members engaged, they perform better.”
Each fall, the Family University Program kicks off with a back-to-school event where students and family members meet with community members and receive school supplies if needed. Throughout the year, Sister Thea Bowman staff and faculty bring in professionals in the community to host informational sessions on financial literacy and education as a whole.
Nickerson said the program also encourages partnerships with local churches, such as the Transformation Christian Center, the congregation using the school’s sanctuary for Sunday services.
Derek Bastian, pastor of the Transformation Christian Center and the school counselor at Sister Thea Bowman, said the goal of the Family University Program is to bring community members, families and students together.
“The success of the program is in the mere fact that organizations are reaching out to families and giving them an opportunity to learn and take part in fellowship,” said Bastian. “It’s about coming together where everyone is hearing the same message.”
As a result, families are provided with resources they can pass on, said Bastian. “They are given templates they can duplicate to transform their families and ultimately, transform the community,” he said.
From Family Reading Night events to seminars by tax professionals, Nickerson said the information provided helps fill in the gaps where information may not be passed down from one family to the next.
“The philosophy is that we have to educate the entire family to break the cycle of poverty,” said Nickerson. “We have to make sure we have the family engaged while we are educating the kids, so it’s a team approach.”
The program also aims to teach a holistic approach to education, said Bastian. “It’s about building the entire person,” he said. “We miss social contact that’s so important in this modern era and the Family University Program encourages the whole community aspect.”