School and church work together to help build stronger families in their community


FORT WORTH—Parents in a community on the north side of Fort Worth are spending one hour a week for 13 weeks in their children's classrooms, gaining a unique education of their own.

This is the second term for what is called Parent University, where parents learn skills for raising their children, held at Manuel Jara Elementary School. Last April, 29 parents graduated from the program. This November, 21 of those came back for a second course, and 44 parents signed up for the first.

A little over two years ago, Primera Baptist Church in Fort Worth, which is located just a few blocks down, adopted the elementary school and began investing in the lives of the students and teachers.

"We believe we need to be involved in our local schools because it's a mission field," said Rafael Berlanga, pastor of Primera Baptist in Fort Worth and volunteer teacher for Parent University. "It's a way to make a difference in the community."

When Berlanga asked Manuel Jara's principal, Marta Plata, about ways the church can help the school, she mentioned the need for parenting classes. Through collaboration with Texas Baptists' Hispanic Education Initiative (HEI) and their promotion of the curriculum Raising Highly Capable Kids, he and Plata began to develop Parent University.

Gabriel Cortes, director of Texas Baptists' HEI, said the first time he was introduced to the curriculum, he was uncertain about its potential impact. The positive results from last spring gave him the assurance that it was a ministry worth continuing.

"After I saw the impact it was having, I knew this needed to be on the forefront of what we do," he said.

Because of the positive feedback from the spring, Manuel Jara continued Parent University into this fall and winter and even added on a second course for the returning parents called Parenting #201.

In the new course, parents will spend a majority of the class time with their children. They will do three weeks of artwork, three weeks of technology, four weeks of a zumba workout class, and in the final three weeks, parents will separate from their children and engage in crucial conversation classes.

Plata sees the partnership with Primera Baptist Church in Fort Worth, the connection with HEI, and the availability of the Raising Highly Capable Kids curriculum as evidence of God's guidance and provision in helping them fulfill their dreams of being a strong influence in the community by helping build stronger families.

"If God gives you the idea, He's going to give you the resources," she said.

The students are equally as excited as the teachers and parents about the program, Plata said. In the spring, the school won a contest that awarded them $1,000. When she asked the students what they wanted to spend the money on, the responses, written in crayons on manila paper, were nearly unanimous—to spend it on Parent University.

Texas Baptists Hispanic Education Initiative is currently working with other churches to start a Parent University in their own communities. For further information on Parent University or the HEI, contact Gabriel Cortes at (214) 887-5426.

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