Goal: Help kids through Parent U

Wonder how you feed a teenager healthy meals, help your kids explore urban wildlife or use hip-hop to relate to your children?

You may be a candidate for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' Parent University, which debuted with a 27-page course catalog Wednesday.

The latest push to help parents help their kids pulls together expertise from public and private agencies, with a $300,000 boost from grants and the power of a huge public school system to reach into homes.

“If we can reach the parents of Mecklenburg County, we will build this community from the inside out,” Eve White, editor of Charlotte Parent magazine, said at a kickoff at ImaginOn.

“Parent University provides us an opportunity to take our children back,” added Willie Ratchford, executive director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's Community Relations Committee. “Dads, we need you, and you're equally as important as the moms are.”

Soon after Superintendent Peter Gorman took CMS's top job in 2006, he promised to create Parent U as part of his 10-year plan for improving public education. His wife, Sue Gorman, served as the volunteer leader of the advisory council that spent nine months preparing for the launch.

Miami-Dade's Parent Academy was the model for CMS's effort, Sue Gorman said, but the Charlotte group added its own twists to create a program that's pioneering for North Carolina.

The Wachovia Foundation donated $200,000 and The Belk Foundation $100,000 for start-up costs, which include printing catalogs and other material and hosting a fall parent celebration, to be announced soon. The group has used CMS staff and volunteers from various agencies to create the program.

The first round of classes take place this fall, with a second batch planned for January. Fall offerings are in English, but Sue Gorman said CMS will work with Hispanic community groups to translate future courses.

Eventually, she said, organizers hope to offer lectures on DVD, Mp3 and other formats that let parents tune in at their own convenience. They also hope houses of worship, employers and community groups will see the offerings – most of which are located in schools – and offer to host sessions.

Another long-range goal: Tracking whether parent participation leads to better attendance, behavior and academic performance for their kids.