SAN JUAN, RGV – Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD officials knew they were on to something big with their new adult education classes when some residents in Weslaco tried to sign up for courses using fictitious address in the PSJA area.

The revamped parent involvement program is off to a great start, with over 1,200 parents enrolling for GED and ESL classes before the programs were even publicized. The GED and ESL classes are free to parents who have children at PSJA but those attending do have to pay for their books, which cost $10.

“We knew the parents had the desire to better themselves. We knew there were thousands and thousands of them that wanted to move forward. But, the doors were not opening for them. Now they are,” said Dr. Daniel P. King, superintendent of PSJA ISD.

Dr. King and Olivia Benford, district parental engagement coordinator at PSJA, chose last Thursday, National Parental Engagement Day, to roll out their revamped parental program. The big kickoff, which included local JP Bobby Contreras swearing in parent volunteers, was held on the front steps of PSJA’s administration building in Pharr. Agencies that have partnered with PSJA were on hand to provide refreshments and educational fliers on issues such as nutrition.

PSJA ISD Superintendent Dr. Daniel P. King is pictured with parent volunteers on National Parental Engagement Day.
PSJA ISD Superintendent Dr. Daniel P. King is pictured with parent volunteers on National Parental Engagement Day.

PSJA has always spent money on parental engagement but the new program is far more ambitious than anything attempted before. The school district is opening three facilities that it calls literary multipurpose centers, venues where parents and other adults in the community can learn new skills. Parents with children at PSJA can take the classes the school districts are offering for free. Other adults may be able to sign up for free classes also but this is dependent on the partner agencies and groups that will be housed in the centers.

The names, addresses, and phone numbers of the new centers are:

Pharr Literacy Multipurpose Center, College, Career & Technology Academy Building, 1100 E. Hwy 83, Pharr, Texas 78577. Phone (956) 354-2216.

San Juan Literacy Multipurpose Center, Old Sorensen Building, 715 S. Standard Avenue, San Juan, Texas 78589. Phone (956) 354-2161.

Alamo Literacy Multipurpose Center, Old Franklin Building, 900 E. Birch Avenue, Alamo, Texas 78516. Phone: (956) 354-2162.

Benford, PSJA’s district parental engagement coordinator, explained what the school district will be offering parents. “We have begun literacy and parental classes, and 1,200 parents have enrolled in GED and ESL classes. We plan to teach computer literacy, nutrition, violence prevention and a lot of other family programs. We want the whole community to come together with the school district and the parents.”

Benford said word of the GED and ESL classes spread fast in the community, with little promotion needed. “We sent our parent educators to spread the word and it got around the community fast. We could see the need was great. People have been waiting for this. It was easy for us to put the bait out there. The parents went for it and now we are inundated. It is clear people have been waiting for this for a long time. They are excited.”

Asked how he knew demand for adult education classes would be so great, Dr. King said: “I have been in the business a long time. All you have to do is talk to parents to understand the desire is there. We had been planning to do this for a while but in the spring, Valley Interfaith invited me to an event with several hundred parents. I could see the demand was there. The parents were just pleading for a location to study. It coincided with us building new schools because we were way overcrowded. So, suddenly we had the space. We are going to be using it to really strengthen the parent component, to allow them to move forward in the way they want to.”

Dr. King said PSJA is keen to partner with other agencies and groups so that as many classes as possible are made available at the three new centers. He gave a shout out to South Texas College, which can provide certification or credentialing in certain fields of study. For example, 60 parents are currently enrolled in the welding and auto mechanics classes. These parents will receive a welding certification when they complete the course and many of them have already received job offers thanks to their new gained skills, according to a PSJA media advisory.

When a reporter pointed out that school districts are not normally in the business of educating parents, King responded: “We feel it is our responsibility. All the studies show that when parents are involved in their children’s education, the children do better. Likewise, when parents are better educated, the children do better. When parents are working to improve themselves, that rubs off on the children. We want to be the facilitator, the access point to help these parents move forward so they can play a bigger role in educating their children and improving the well-being of their family.”

King acknowledged that for PSJA or any Rio Grande Valley school district to try to cope with the demand for education among the adult population of the region more grant funding will be needed. The demand certainly cannot be met through a district’s traditional parental engagement budget, he said.

“We are going to be seeking more grants. We have a lot of volunteer agencies that are partnering with us. We are serving as a coordinator of services. We are spending what we have always spent on parental involvement but we are refocusing on how that money is spent,” King explained.

“Adult education funds are very limited and workforce funds have declined in recent years. Our primary focus is the parents. We have thousands of parents and other adults who are very hungry for an education, very hungry for job skills and a better life. We are committed to being a connecting point and a facilitator, to scale this up so that we can find programs that allow us to come a lot closer to meeting the needs.”

King said to watch out for Avance, a nonprofit organization that supports Latino families with programs that focuses on parent education, having a presence at the Alamo Literacy Multipurpose Center from January.

“We have tremendous partners such as STC and the various agencies. We could not do this on our own. Fortunately, our school board is very progressive minded. They are all behind this,” King added.