In a demonstration of community strength that came just weeks after a shooting at the John Marshall School in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, nearly 50 families packed the school cafeteria on Dec. 3 to participate in the year’s first SmartTALK Family Night.
The evening was one in a series of family sessions offered to all nine of the Step UP schools implementing the SmartTALK: Homework Support for Kids Program. The program was developed by the Harvard Achievement Support Initiative (HASI), the University’s professional development and grant-making effort to increase learning opportunities for Boston’s young people, particularly during out-of-school time.
Supported by HASI and undergraduate volunteers from Harvard’s Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Harvard Enrichment Program, the event brought Marshall students and their families together for a night of pizza, problem solving, prizes, and fun.
After dinner, adults and children sat together at grade-level tables and worked on homework activities using hands-on math materials. Facilitators instructed students to become the “teachers” and to explain to the adults in their families how to do the math problems. Many families were surprised to learn that students are expected to find solutions to math problems in several different ways and to clearly explain their thinking.
At the kindergarten table, students filled outline shapes with colorful pattern blocks and showed their families different ways to cover designs. Families listened as children talked about shapes and patterns. Older students showed their families how mental math skills help them to estimate, add, and multiply faster.
Families took home SmartTALK packets with folders, pencils, rulers, write-on/wipe-off boards, and math manipulatives aligned with the Boston Public Schools Investigations math curriculum.
Lisa Moellman, assistant director at HASI, said the family event is an important part of supporting the work of SmartTALK at Marshall. “SmartTALK is about helping students become more effective learners during after-school time. A big part of it is being able to talk about what you know and how you know it. SmartTALK Family Nights are a natural extension of our work in afterschool — bringing materials and ideas to families to help them support their children’s success at home,” said Moellman.
As the evening wrapped up, Sophia Bishop-Rice, Marshall’s manager of extended learning services, raffled 15 bags of SmartTALK learning games donated by Harvard and 20 gift cards donated by teachers and other Marshall partners. Based on the smiling faces and excited chatter at the end of the evening, Bishop-Rice called the night a success, saying “Families struggle helping their children with homework. Nights like tonight are great because the students really enjoy showing their parents how they do their homework.”
SmartTALK is a key program of Step UP, a collaboration among Harvard, Tufts University, Northeastern University, Boston College, Boston University, the city of Boston and the Boston Public Schools working to address the achievement gap. For more information, visit the Step UP Web site.