Wallsboro seems like one of the most unlikely places to have a state center that aids people of all lots of life.
But the Alabama Parent Education Center does just that.
“Folks tend to know about us when the need us,” said Jeana Winter, the center’s executive director. “That’s when they find us.”
Winter said the center is an outgrowth of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It was one of the first federal educational laws that really had a parental engagement component, family involvement in real meaningful ways. So there were a lot of discussions that were happening amongst families, I’m sure, across the country, but, in my pod of folks, they were having a lot of discussions about ‘What does this mean?’ and ‘How do we help our kids?’ So that’s really how APEC began in 2002 was a group of families and educators organized a board and then we wrote for federal money and we were awarded that money in 2003 and we established the Parent Information and Resource Center of Central Alabama.
“We worked under No Child Left Behind and schools to help families to better understand the new rights, responsibilities, testing procedures. That was the first time that we deemed schools to be in failure status and although it didn’t mean that your child was in a bad school, it meant that there were areas for improvement. So we did a lot of parent education about what that means, where your school wasn’t meeting the mark and how you can stay engaged to help improve your local schools. So we did a lot of training around supplemental services and school choice options because the law did provide those things. So if you were in a school that wasn’t meeting the standard, then you could access free tutoring and so we helped families to understand that and helped districts organize fairs with different providers so families could access some services to make sure their children were closing those gaps in reading and math. And from that it grew.”
The began operating and expanding and seeing other needs locally and statewide. It went from serving five counties in central Alabama to serving statewide and added several different programs through the years that serve specific areas.
Among those programs are:
- The Alabama Parent Information and Training Center: The APITC assists families with children with disabilities in the education process from birth to 26 years old through training, information and support.
“Families need to understand what schools are doing and, then, what support’s available,” said Winter. “If their child has a disability – and there are so many different types of disabilities that can affect their learning – then they can access those supports and services to ensure that their kids do better in school. We do parent trainings, we do advocate academies, we offer webinars on various topics monthly for families all across the state.”
- The Imagination Library of Elmore County: Provides free books to Elmore County children ages birth through 5.
“We do that in an effort with many, many, many partners to help to create libraries of materials in early childhood because we know when kids are ready to read and ready to be school-ready, literacy is the key in that happening,” said Winter. “So we have our early childhood and literacy project where we do all types of fun activities and games with families here that help them to create environments where their kids are learning and having fun and their kids are school-ready.
- Early Childhood Literacy and Numeracy Project: Provides training, information and support to Alabama families with preschool-aged children with disabilities to develop early literacy and numeracy skills to promote school readiness.
“We do all types of fun activities and games with families here that help them to create environments where their kids are learning and having fun and their kids are school-ready,” said Winter.
- Cooperative Parenting After Separation and Divorce: Fee-for-service classes designed to assist separated or divorced families to better parent cooperatively for the benefit of the children.
“If we can reframe the thought where parents understand that their co-parenting together for that life of that child and it’s not just about them, it’s much bigger than them, then that child is shielded from the conflict and will have a much happier and productive childhood, Winter said.
- Fathers Forward: Provides training and information to non-custodial parents to secure employment, develop responsible parenting skills, and connect with their children legally, financially and emotionally.
“We have a case manager who works on that program who provides them with support around navigating the legal system. So if potentially they’re behind on their child support payment, they may get referred to our center, our case manager works with them, we work to find competitive employment, get them enrolled in long-term training programs or short-term educational programs where they have a better opportunity to raise their wage and be able to maintain those child support payments without getting into trouble. All the while, we’re giving them parenting programs where they better know how to connect with their child from a distance if they’re non-custodial.”
- Dedicated Dad: Provides education and training to fathers and the general community to promote the importance of actively engaged fathers and the practice of sound parenting skills to prevent child abuse and neglect.
“We work within Draper, Elmore and Staton (correctional centers) and do what we call our Inside Out Dad parenting program that helps them reconnect with their kids, because many of them have had a period of time where they haven’t been able to access their children or haven’t developed good relationships with them,” Winter said. “We work with the prison system to help those dads understand how to connect with their children from afar, how to re-enter their lives, how to access jobs and resources in their local community despite their felony issues so that they can successfully re-enter and stay and then re-enter their children’s lives.”
APEC also operates a Special Families program, which is a support group and parenting program for parents that have kids with disabilities of all ages, helping them explore the things about having a child with a disability so that they are connected with other families for support. Many families who have disabled children feel isolated because of the nature of their child’s disability. APEC offers this program both individually and through group sessions to help families better manage trust and offers access to resources to help make their lives easier.