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Families grateful for Parents as Teachers

Staff writer

Erica and Jeffrey Richmond needed to make one of the more difficult transitions as parents: Moving their infant son from their bed to his own bed to sleep.

The transition was successful. Noah now sleeps in his own bed, and the Richmonds credit Parents as Teachers and the PAT representative who visits their home every month.

“They encouraged us to set a goal and work toward it,” Erica Richmond said. “My kids always go straight for Ms. Patty’s bag to see what she brought them every month. She always has an activity they so look forward to. There was one day Noah would not let her leave without a hug and kiss.”

The PAT program is a free program for more than 100 families and 140 children throughout the county. Any parent with a child younger than a three year old qualifies, although there are waiting lists for three of the five school districts in the county.

PAT’s mission is to provide support, information and encouragement to parents so that they can help their children develop in the critical early years of life. PAT staffers accomplish this in four ways: personal visits to the home; developmental screenings that include hearing and vision and health; group connections that foster socialization for kids and parents; and resource networking that includes health, financial, housing, transportation, literacy, food, and child care resource services.

“Celebrating successes and brainstorming together ideas for challenging parts of a child’s or parent’s day nourishes me, especially when strategies that we have discussed together on a visit work well and lessen the stress of a family’s day,” said Lori Soo Hoo, PAT coordinator.

Soo Hoo, who became coordinator in 2007, used to be an educator in the Newton schools but transitioned to PAT because she believed in the power of home-based learning.

The Marion County PAT program began in 2002, alleviating a long waiting list that had developed while the Herington PAT was serving Marion County. Today, four families currently are on the waiting list in USD 408, and one family in USD 398.

In USD 410, 18 families are on the waiting list for PAT services, which is down compared to 31 families on the waiting list in 2008. PAT’s offices at the Hillsboro Elementary School provide high visibility in the community.

Melanie Thiessen’s family in Hillsboro participates in PAT after spending time on the waiting list. Her son has reached the age of 3 and has graduated from the program, but her daughter continues to receive services at age 2.

“Kids develop so fast, and I figured that it was a great resource to help him grow and learn,” Thiessen said, adding that her family enjoys attending socialization events such as Big Truck Night and PJ Reading at the library.

She also has learned that inexpensive items can stimulate a child in unexpected ways.

“I can use that empty apple juice bottle to put stuff in. They like to shake and find things,” Thiessen said. “It refreshes my mind. It’s fun for us to do at home, and helps me learn what helps them develop at each stage of development.”

“Babies are born to learn and parents are their children’s best, first and most important teachers,” said Soo Hoo.

USD 410 has the highest current use of PAT services, with 28 families and 35 children. In USD 408, 21 families and 23 children receive services; 12 families and 16 children in USD 398; eight families and ten children in USD 397; and 11 families and children in USD 397.

PAT has a $126,000 budget for 2015, and the organization raises its money primarily through annual grants and school district funds, including Tobacco Settlement money through the Kansas Department of Education Children’s Initiative Fund.

PAT has four part-time staff members that work between 21 and 30 hours a week. PAT also contracts with a Spanish translator for three hours a month as well as guest presenters.

Laurel Litton of Peabody has two daughters enrolled in the PAT program, and she described Soo Hoo as “part of the family.”

“I have felt free to ask her anything without judgment,” Litton said. “I could call or text her, and she is right there to answer and help us.”

Litton heard about the program while giving birth at Newton Medical Center. She waited on the waiting list for seven months before entering the PAT program.

Soo Hoo and other PAT staffers helped get Litton’s daughters into swim lessons at the Marion Sports and Aquatics Center. PAT also set up one of her daughters with a physical therapist and speech therapist when she was slow to crawl and talk, Litton said.

“The physical therapist put shoe inserts in for her feet,” Litton said. “It was free but normally would have been a hundred dollars. We couldn’t afford that.”

Last modified Jan. 29, 2015

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