Casper 'Go For It!' advocates learn from first-year struggles

2013-06-09T23:45:00Z 2013-06-10T05:26:04Z Casper 'Go For It!' advocates learn from first-year strugglesBy ELYSIA CONNER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 09, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

Casper school officials and researchers believe a program that teaches families to teach their children how to succeed will benefit from first-year growing pains.

The “Go For It! Family Program” enters its second year in nine Casper schools this fall despite setbacks in research and funding.

The project is based on bestselling author and motivational trainer Judy Zerafa’s “Seven Keys to Success Program.” It includes evening training sessions with parents to teach them the same “keys” their children are learning at school. The basis of the family program is that parental involvement is crucial to student success.

“Actually, what makes ‘Go For It!’ different from other behavioral support programs is that very focused parental component that involves the parents in the same process as the students and the teachers,” said Heather Duncan, the University of Wyoming Educational Leadership coordinator who is spearheading the program’s research.

A UW research team started work last fall to find out if implementation of the program correlates with improvements in students’ state and national assessment scores and behaviors. Duncan said research was hindered because not enough surveys were returned from schools and parents in time to collect baseline data by the end of 2012. UW researchers had planned to track students for five years at the schools, which receive federal Title I funds aimed at low-income populations.

The research likely now will focus more on school progress rather than tracking individual students, Duncan said. Going forward, researchers can look at schools as a whole in incidents of discipline and academic assessment scores, she added. Schools already keep those records, so the baseline data prior to when they started using the family program is available.

Another concern is the fact that Duncan, the project’s only senior researcher, is leaving UW for another job this summer. Zerafa plans to find a new person or team to continue the research.

“Casper is going to be the community that shows people this is how you do it, and this is what happens when you do it,” Zerafa said. “And then the country gets to benefit because somebody has already done the work.”

Struggle for funds

Organizers plan to run the Go For It! program on a tighter budget this coming year after encountering fundraising issues in 2012-13.

Cottonwood Elementary School Principal Mari Stoll, who helps organize the program in Casper, said in an email that many foundations and businesses no longer give funds to public schools. Some wanted to see results first, others were funding different projects and some thought schools have a lot of money and should be responsible for funding the program, Stoll said. One donated $1,000.

Stoll said each participating school will attempt to raise about $10,000 for the coming academic year. Stoll said the money would cover training, food and child care for the parent training nights, program books for the parents, keys for student incentives and T-shirts for students, parents and staff.

Currently, the schools only have enough funds for one family training night, student materials and site licenses, Stoll said. Last school year, each school hosted three after originally calling for four.

Last school year, the program received about $107,000 in 2012-13 from Title I funds, part of which went toward teacher and staff training, site licenses and student materials. The district’s special education department also awarded a $30,000 grant to train participating schools’ special education employees in the program.

Stoll does not foresee those one-time funding sources being available this year.

The eight participating Natrona County School District schools in the program paid about $25,600 for training nights and T-shirts. Parent groups paid for T-shirts for school employees.

Costs in the second year will be much smaller, Stoll said, because they only need to train new employees at the schools in the program.

Zerafa plans to repackage the family program book for the mass market and use her royalties to help the schools and to continue research. The university had donated its time to the study and the Go For It! Institute was responsible only for costs of the study, such as researchers’ travel, Zerafa said.

The participating public schools include Bar Nunn, Cottonwood, Grant, Pineview, University Park and Willard elementaries, as well as Frontier Middle School and Midwest Schools. The ninth member is the private St. Anthony’s Tri-Parish Catholic School in Casper.

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