School District 65 is starting a new program, “Smart Start,” in which it will develop partnerships with families of at-risk children to assist in the education of their children. “This is really a partnership so that together we can have a much better impact than working on our own,” said Ellen Fogelberg, literacy director for the District. She said compelling research shows that effective parental involvement can help children who are considered most at-risk for failure.

This year, the District will invite the 200 families who have four-year olds in the District’s pre-k programs to participate in the program. The families will be asked to make a commitment to help their children develop literacy skills and to build a portfolio which will capture and document their learning experiences. Families will also be asked to participate in three hands-on workshops each year, which will teach parents strategies to use with their children. The District will follow up the workshops with a home visit or a telephone call to make sure parents feel comfortable using the strategies provided in the workshops.

Ms. Fogelberg said there would also be annual meetings with parents at which goals and strategies to use with their children will be discussed.

Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the program will expand year by year as the first cohort of students advances to kindergarten, then first grade on up to third grade. The ultimate goal is have all students reading at grade level by the end of third grade, which is one goal of the District’s strategic plan.

Workshops to kick off the program will be held on April 13 and 21. Rick Kinnebrew and Laura Antolin of the Evanston Public Library, will discuss a procedure for reading and discussing books with children, and will demonstrate ways that parents can work with their children to develop vocabulary and other literacy skills. After these workshops, parents will be asked to sign a contract to participate in the Smart Start program, and they will receive notebooks, binders and disposable cameras to use in building a portfolio of activities the family has engaged in to improve literacy skills.