Lacey Eggen goes to first grade in Granite District's Eastwood School. So does her mom, Ginny.
While Lacey is doing what normal 6- to 7-year-old children do, her mother is doing something that is still somewhat exceptional. She is volunteering three hours a week to a cooperative program that supplements a teacher's efforts and provides enrichment for children in the elementary grades.
"We have large classes and limited resources in Utah," said Susan Spicer, the regular teacher in the cooperative class. "Using parent volunteers in the classroom is a way to ensure quality."
The children in the cooperative classrooms at Eastwood test slightly above their peers in regular classrooms, Spicer said. That could be a reflection of the special interest the volunteer parents take in their children's education, but it also indicates the enriched experiences provide an edge.
Eggen and other parents of the 26 students in Spicer's first grade classroom are there every day on a rotating basis. Eggen's turns are on Thursday mornings. Often, there is more than one volunteer working with the teacher.
What does that mean for the students? It means that while Spicer is working with a small reading group, Kristen, who is having trouble with her math can come to Eggen for help.
"Can you take six from one?" the mother nudges after looking over the situation.
"No," the pretty little blonde in a miniskirt decides, after thinking about it.
"Then what can you do?" Eggen continues.
"I can borrow from `one's' neighbor," the child concludes and returns to her seat to complete the problem and continue without having to wait for Spicer to be available.
Individual tutoring is important, but Eggen also has a Money Bingo game that will be used in a group setting to reinforce earlier lessons on money mathematics.
"Each parent contributes from his or her own strengths," Eggen said. The class has had newspaper units, science enrichment and special music instruction based on what the volunteer teachers bring to class.
Field trips are more creative with a parent-teacher team looking for opportunities, and more manageable.
The Granite District Educational Cooperative Program is three years old. Parents from anywhere in the district can enroll their children in the program, which operates in kindergarten through third grade. A $15 fee is charged for one child, $10 for additional children from the same family.
"We hope to add another grade each year," Spicer said.
The Eggens, for instance, live in the Holladay Elementary neighborhood. The mother said taking her child to another school hasn't affected her friendships at home, and "we'll transfer eventually." Parents are responsible for getting their youngsters to Eastwood and many of them arrange car pooling.
Being in Lacey's classroom on a routine basis also helps the Eggens to reinforce at home what she is learning.
Next year, Robbie Eggen will be ready for kindergarten and the Eggens will divide their volunteer time between Lacey's second grade class and his kindergarten class, which also is a cooperative.
Not every teacher would accommodate the extra demands of cooperative teaching, Spicer acknowledged. The advantages are many _ fewer discipline problems and having much of her time freed to work more intensely with small groups of children or individuals.
On the flip side, considerable planning and flexibility is needed when responsibilities are shared by a teacher and more than 20 parents, she said. Group meetings are held regularly to plan a month ahead to involve parents in the concepts being taught by Spicer as part of usual state requirements for children in this grade.
The parent volunteers in her class are very reliable, she said, and almost invariably show up when it is their turn in the classroom, but, "It's not always simple to accommodate all the ideas they have."
A teacher who felt threatened by having "outsiders" in her classroom would never volunteer for this approach. "Many of my teacher friends think I'm crazy," Spicer said.
The cooperative program is at Eastwood because there is room in the school to accommodate it, she said. Only four of the children in the first grade class actually live within the Eastwood boundaries.
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