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story.lead_photo.caption In the spring, Parents as Teachers Coordinator Katie Epema did a virtual visit with Luna Branson, 5, and mother Angela Branson. Photo by Submitted by Katie Epema

It's a season unlike any other for many school programs, as many districts have been moving back to distance learning even as of a week ago. Parents have had to not only adjust to working from home, but some have also become teachers for the first time, helping their children with Zoom calls and keeping them focused on class work. For JC Schools' Parents as Teachers, the importance of education at home has remained their focus despite the pandemic — and in even more ways this year.

Founded in 1984 in Missouri, Parents as Teachers focuses on helping parents "embrace their role as their child's first and best teacher," according to the Parents as Teachers website. The program is available through school districts to children 1 month to age 5, and unlike in other years, there is currently no waiting list to enroll.

"We believe parents are their children's first teacher," said Katie Epema, Parents as Teachers Coordinator for the Jefferson City School District. "Kids don't come with directions, but PAT can help."

Parents as Teachers can now be found in school districts across the U.S. and a few in Europe.

They offer five key services to children from birth to kindergarten age: personalized home visits, where parent educators discuss child development and share parent-child activities; group connection events that include information and speakers; annual health, hearing, vision and developmental screening; resource information; and a monthly emailed newsletter covering events and child development topics.

One large aspect of the program is the home visits parent educators have with parents and children where they set child/family goals, discuss the child's development and share educational resources, such as books and projects. JC Schools PAT has met families where they're at during the pandemic — meeting outdoors, at the Southwest Early Childhood Center, by telecommunication and through video apps like Zoom.

"We recognize we're not doing virtual meetings forever, but we understand this is what we can offer to support and help families," Epema said. "It looks different than it normally does, but families have appreciated it."

Epema said the network of parent educators, who conduct home visits and partner with families, have been "resilient" this year, meeting families where they're at and learning along the way. Even educators who were new to virtual programs picked them up.

"Each person was willing to learn in a new way," she said. "We have adopted a new model: patience, flexibility and grace. It's brought out new strengths in the program."

Parents who live in the Jefferson City School District attendance area and have a child between birth and kindergarten — or expecting a child — can enroll at forms.gle/dm3denyHJ8RmCXg37, find JC Schools Parents as Teachers on Facebook or can contact Katie Epema at 573-691-6740 for more information.

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