Natalie Fisher helps her daughter, Savannah Scott, 7, eat French toast at Baby University, a series of parenting classes for low-income parents at the South Toledo Community Center.
“Kids aren’t born with a handbook.”
Sam Stephenson’s father gave him that advice. Now, the 36-year-old South Toledo resident has five children, and he’s learned what his father told him is true.
Or almost true. In April, he graduated from Baby University, a parenting school sort of like a child-rearing handbook for low-income residents of South Toledo.
The school has taught 208 parents how to discipline, read to, and bond with their children. The course consists of 10 Saturday-morning classes at the South Toledo Community Center. New groups start each fall, winter, and spring.
Kelly and the Rev. David Kaiser of Maumee partnered with Western Avenue Ministries in South Toledo, where Mr. Kaiser is a pastor, and Cherry Street Mission Ministries to found the school three years ago.
PHOTO GALLERY: Back to school with Baby University
Mrs. Kaiser, 49, is a physical therapist and Mr. Kaiser, 49, runs a market-research business. The couple have raised five children and both say that teaching good parenting is a way to start solving some endemic problems of poor neighborhoods.
Most participants make less than $15,000 a year and are on public aid. Few have graduated from high school.
All are from a neighborhood of 6,600 families in South Toledo that the Kaisers refer to as the South Toledo Kids’ Zone. It is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, a 100-block radius in central Harlem, in New York City, where a pipeline program aims to break children free from a cycle of generational poverty by providing educational and health services from infancy through high school graduation.
The Kaisers’ goal is to create a similar pipeline for children in South Toledo.
“These are parents who don’t know what they don’t know, and if you give them a vision of being able to raise their kids to break out of poverty, they’re very happy,” Mr. Kaiser said.
Baby University is funded by $500,000 in grants from the ProMedica Advocacy Fund of the Toledo Community Foundation, the Stranahan Foundation, the Toledo Rotary Club, PNC Bank, and private donors and churches. The next group begins Sept. 7.
Randall Patterson feeds his daughter, Randi, 4 months, a bottle in her pram. He is among the graduates of Baby University.
Mrs. Kaiser teaches, following the Nurturing Parenting Program, a curriculum usually used for court-ordered parenting classes. “We talk about what it means to nurture, love, and care for [a child] so [he or she] can grow and develop,” she said.
Often, parents who struggle financially also struggle with showing empathy when disciplining their children, she said. “We talk about how to teach what behaviors we want to get from the children and not just use corporal punishment.”
Mr. Stephenson said that he used to spank his 7-year-old daughter Jazmine but now punishes her by making her stand in a corner.
Parents also learn that children who are read to 15 minutes a day do better in school than children who aren’t.
In April’s graduating class, 45 percent of participants had said on a preclass survey that they never read to their children. After the program, all participants reported reading to their children at least once a day.
Parents leave class with stacks of books.
“We have a whole library now,” said Randall Patterson, 42, who graduated from the program with his fianceé, Shaquena Watson, in April. They have a 4-month-old daughter, Randi.
Ms. Watson, 28, picked up Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Aesop’s Fables after a class. “We didn’t know how valuable it was to read to kids,” she said.
Parents also receive free diapers and child care during sessions.
The Kaisers and their staff connect participants to other outreach services, such as relationship counseling, GED classes, and assistance finding safe housing. Last year, donors provided beds to 40 participants who had been sleeping on the floor.
Outreach workers visit homes three times during a 10-week session and call parents once a week to help them implement the skills.
Mr. Patterson has a 19-year-old son. But he said the lessons he learned from Baby University have changed the way he’s raising Randi. “Now I look at [Randi], and I’m more patient,” he said. “I’m more cautious with the words I use.”
Ms. Watson agreed. “Everything we learned from this class, we use.”
Contact Arielle Stambler at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.