Children at Risk: The Family
For a fourth grader, there’s something uniquely wonderful about watching your father do the Chicken Dance.
Your mother’s dancing too -- and so are you, your little brother and sister, and more than a half dozen other families, all wiggling to this silly song in the auditorium of MacQuiddy Elementary School in Watsonville, Calif.
“For them to see their parents doing the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance -- it just makes them feel special,” says kindergarten teacher Rocio Pantoja, who helped lead the festivities.
A little corny? Oh, yes. But each of the activities at this meeting of Families and Schools Together (FAST) has been chosen with distinct objectives in mind: to help children feel more comfortable at school, to strengthen families facing tremendous pressures in their lives, and to forge ties between these families and their schools. Through the games, songs, and discussion groups, parents from this high-poverty city east of Santa Cruz bond with their children and share concerns with one another over things like drugs, teen sex, bullying, and the ongoing stresses of family life.
“We get together,” says parent Francisco Rodriguez, who took the training at nearby Ann Soldo Elementary School. “We find a way to solve our problems.”
A field worker for 14 years, Rodriguez says the program helped him grow closer to his 12-year-old son, who joined him three years ago from Mexico and had trouble adjusting to life in California.
At age 12, “they’re still children,” says Rodriguez, who now works for a landscaper. “As long as we hold them close to us, we protect them.”