If you ask your child what he did in school today and get “Nothing,” then ask a more specific question, like “What was the most difficult thing you did today?” This was one of many suggestions fourth grade teacher Michele Bantugan offered 40 parents attending a workshop on communicating with their children at Daly City’s Westlake Elementary School on November 21.

A 12-year teacher and parent of two young children, Bantugan explains, “I realize how important parents are to their children’s social and emotional development.” The questions that have troubled parents for generations inspired Bantugan to lead the workshop. “We all want what’s best for our kids. Making your child feel special and that what they have to say is important,” she says.

Bantugan offered tips for getting children to ask for help, what to do when children fight with their siblings, and how to engage children by asking open-ended questions. Parents watched a video showing the concepts in action, broke into discussion groups, and carried home a booklet on communications strategies. 

One parent, Silvina Ras, who emigrated from the Philippines four months ago, says the workshops taught her that it’s good to let children speak their native language, that eventually they will speak English. She says the trainings have helped her family adjust to their new culture. 

“We make parents aware of their value, and that they can express their ideas at board meetings. We build up parents so when we campaign we have their support.” — Elaine Francisco, teacher and parent activist

The parent workshops in the Jefferson Elementary School District are the brainchild of special education teacher Elaine Francisco. She came to Daly City from the Philippines in the early 1990s, had two children, enrolled them in the district, and 14 years ago began teaching there. She is active in PTAs and her union.

Last year Francisco worked hard to pass Proposition 30 and Measure I, a district school bond. She asked each of the district’s 300 teachers to identify one potential parent activist. She netted 50 parents who volunteered for precinct walking, phone banking, and community meetings; their efforts resulted in voters passing Measure I with an approval of more than 76 percent.

When Francisco wanted to recruit more parents, she realized “the best way was to give them something, not just ask for their support.” That “something” became union-sponsored workshops to help parents learn how to best support their children socially and emotionally and become effective advocates for public education. District administrators and PTAs support the workshops, which cover topics such as healthy eating for student success, catching bullying before it begins, homework without tears, and promoting literacy at home.

Last year, Francisco, who holds a masters degree in early childhood special e­ducation and is in a doctorate program, conducted five parent workshops. Now other teachers like Bantugan lead workshops. The union has conducted four trainings so far this year and plans to host at least three more. 

The local has reached more than 200 parents through the workshops. “We put a human face on the union,” Francisco says. Each workshop opens with “who the union is, what we do, and how we share the same goals. We make parents aware of their value, and that they can express their ideas at board meetings,” she says. “We build up parents so when we campaign we have their support.” 

The union organized parents for November’s school board election. “A community member and union endorsed-candidate — virtually unheard of before the election — was the top vote getter,” said Jefferson Federation President Melinda Dart, “despite it being an off-year election.” 

Dart credits parent support for a 
6 percent pay raise in the last contract campaign, explaining that the union used parent surveys from the workshops to guide bargaining. “They understood our issues and were effective allies,” she says. “They packed school board meetings and spoke on our behalf.” 

— By Mindy Pines, CFT Reporter