Randy Jackman likes to look at his children when they're absorbed in play and unaware they're being watched.
It's a learned skill. He didn't pay that close attention to them, he said, until it was an assignment in a parenting class."It has been an eye-opener. They're human, not little mechanical things. They have choices and I'm not the Gestapo there."
That parenting class, "Teachers Helping Families," functions on the theory that the way to help students succeed and prevent problems like substance abuse is to train teachers and parents to work with them.
Funded by Salt Lake County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services in area schools, it is providing specialized training to teachers, who in turn hold classes for parents to help them improve skills like communication. The program was developed by Project Reality, a drug treatment program, which provides the staff to train teachers.
The project began eight years ago and has grown to include five schools. Similar outreach programs are reaching Hispanics through the Institute of Human Resource Development and Asians through the Asian Association of Utah.
"The program has expanded because it's successful," said Shelly Eyre, prevention coordinator for Project Reality. "It is designed to fit into whatever people are used to. So we reach Hispanics in their homes, the Asian population in churches, etc. We meet where people are already comfortable."
For most people, that means in schools like Rose Park Elementary, which has participated for five years.
"Of all the prevention things, the most marketable was parenting," Eyre said. "If we intervene before children start experimenting, we can prevent a lot of things. But the program is not just for `high-risk' kids. Wherever people are, they can get what they need from it. The magic is not so much the curriculum as the process."
Randy and Janin Jackman didn't join the class because they feared their children were involved in drugs. They joined to improve their parenting skills and compare notes with other parents. While he has learned to really see his children, she has learned the importance of continued positive reinforcement to a child's sometimes-fragile self-esteem.
Their son, Aaron, has also learned from the program: "You can have fun with your family and still be serious." While parents attend one of three classes (two beginner and an advanced), he and other children in grades K-6 are in a class of their own, where lessons are sprinkled into play activities.
During the 12-week course, parents learn about communication and the importance of being flexible if you want a happy family, setting limits, behavior modification, problem-solving, goal setting, positive changes and more. They also have access to clinical expertise to answer questions and share skills.
"We learned that our ultimate goal as a parent should be to put ourselves out of business; to move over as our children grow," said Randy Jackman.
Michelle Bachman, teacher and program coordinator at Rose Park Elementary, and Rosanne Jackson, principal there, say the program works - and 80 percent of the parents enrolled stay with it.
"The teachers are learning skills and carrying them into the system, not just the classroom. They're carrying them into other lives and reaching a lot of people," said Todd Hattori, Salt Lake County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services.