To further focus on emotional growth, Perea has developed an approach where teachers and administrators become part of the students’ extended families. Teachers do at least one home visit per year. The home visits help them see what a child’s family life is like, and they also help the children trust their instructors. A child might show her teacher her Spiderman, Dora, and princess toys. When tough lessons are taught in school, such as conflict resolution, kids are more likely to remember their teacher played with them at home and then listen to their advice and guidance at school.
A big part of conflict resolution is helping kids learn to express their feelings instead of resorting to violence or anger. Gender roles are untaught at Perea, Murrell said. Girls are traditionally taught it’s okay to be sad, happy, or scared, while boys are traditionally taught it’s not okay to show fear or sadness, but it is okay to be angry or happy. Perea students are taught that all emotions are okay as long as they’re expressed calmly, which helps them learn to regulate their emotions, she said.
Perea knows that to help students develop emotionally and physically, it needs to work with parents to ensure that the adults in students’ lives are physically and mentally healthy, too. This means providing supportive resources for parents.
Martin saw firsthand how much the school cared about her family when her child’s teacher helped her after a job loss. “I was walking around depressed, and she went home and talked to her husband to see what they could do to help me,” Martin said. “They paid my light bill and helped me find a new job. I’ll never forget her, and we still keep in touch. My children refer to her as if she were an aunt.”
The help Martin received from Perea wasn’t rare. Perea has a parent liaison that connects parents with community resources for employment, getting their GED, and enrolling in or returning to college. Some parents say they have a stronger support system than they’ve ever had through the friends and teachers they meet at Perea.
Martin’s Perea story started when she volunteered there with her cousin before she even had a child in the preschool. She said she was so impressed that she wanted to send her children there. Her cousin was fulfilling part of the 30-hour annual parent volunteering and engagement requirement. Parent engagement isn’t just volunteering in the classroom; it’s also taking parenting classes.
“Parents tend to parent as they were parented,” Murrell said. “With education, Perea parents learn different tactics to take with our children. For example, we teach parents that punishment is not effective for long-term behavioral change, and can, in fact, promote avoidance behaviors and secrecy.” Instead, parents are taught about other ways to deal with problem behaviors, such as refocusing attention and talking with their children about their emotions. The purpose is to help the children develop the cognitive processes required to self-regulate. But if the parents don’t know about their options, then they can’t make change.