You can ask the seven graduating families why they loved their eight weeks together in LINC’s Families and Schools Together (FAST) program with the Fort Osage School District.
And they will extol how they learned to listen to each other — parent to child, husband to wife. How they enjoyed meal times, play times and the parent circle times. How they’ll cherish the moments of new wisdom, shared anxieties and mutual joys.
“We’ve become like a family,” Lizeth Plemons said, scissoring the fingers of her two hands together as she and husband Jared spoke to the rest of the parent circle on their graduation night, at Blue Hills Elementary School, Oct. 22.
You can ask. Or just sit in and watch scenes unfold:
Jokes roll out easily. Laughter flows from the wellspring of parents who are unabashedly relaxed.
“Oh, I don’t go in my neighborhood,” one parent clarifies, when Circle time’s open conversation between parents, being late October, inevitably turns to trick-or-treating strategy. “We go to the rich neighborhoods.”
Yes, agrees another laughing parent, adding that you should shuffle the treats into a separate bag and approach each new house with a mostly empty candy sack. Get that extra sympathy dose of candy.
“Ah, poor kid,” she says, imagining the reaction of a homeowner passing out the candy. And then the trick-or-treating parent’s plausible explanation: “We got a late start . . .”
“You guys did a great job coming together,” FAST team member and parent educator Julia Hupp tells the circle. She sees their comfort and friendship and how they have made the most of FAST’s opportunities, and it is rejuvenating.
“I leave here blessed,” Hupp says.
If the FAST program works, said Rick Jackson, the FAST national trainer supervisor, the bonding strength it builds between the families and with their schools will be realized by their children.
“The kid will do better in school,” said Jackson, who was on hand to see the last day and the graduation ceremony. “The family will be more engaged in their community. Their kids will be more engaged in school. They will enjoy coming to school. They will feel more comfortable in the building.”
The parents filled out initial surveys and they will fill out post-surveys, Jackson said. They will also survey teachers and school officials to evaluate progress.
The Fort Osage FAST program was opened to all five elementary schools with LINC programs — Blue Hills, Buckner, Cler-Mont, Elm Grove and Indian Trails — giving families across the community a chance to take part.
“These guys have grown a lot,” LINC site coordinator Steve McClellan said of the graduating families. “They’ve gotten an opportunity to not only build their relationships with their children, but with the other parents and team members.”
“Their children are special to us, and they are too,” he said. “We are really looking forward to supporting them with this graduation.”
It was probably a mistake to be asking FAST program parent Jamie Liddell to talk about what she experienced over the past eight weeks while she and her daughter were in the middle of “Special Play” time.
Because 6-year-old Sasha, like all the other children in this recurring part of the program, is “the boss” right now, deciding what she and her mom will do with a box of arts and craft supplies.
While this time for empowering her child’s unique creativity was important, Liddell also wanted to talk about the benefits of FAST’s “Circle” time with other parents away from the kids, and that time the program sets aside for husbands and wives to get some alone-time together.
This was not “alone” time, as became obvious.
LIDDELL (answering a visitor’s question): I like the one-on-one time with my husband, because we never get to talk—
SASHA: (cutting mom off) What is one-on-one?
LIDDELL: It’s where me and your dad—
SASHA: Oh yeah! I know.
LIDDELL: —talk and—
SASHA: Nobody can start to interrupt.
LIDDELL: —no interrupt. Yes.
Liddell smiles, taking in her daughter’s sing-songy performance in the middle of her craft project.
LIDDELL: We get to see her personality on full blast—
SASHA (head wagging, playing with pipe cleaners): We talk, talk . . . talk-talk-talk.
LIDDELL: —especially in Special Play.
The big-hearted fun stays with you, said Tia Petty, with her husband Rusty and their daughters, Lone, 8, and Sai, 9.
Each FAST gathering begins with boisterous introductions, with big round-house waves and the unison greetings in return — “Helloooo, Petty Family!”
“Now I want to greet everyone that way,” Petty said.
The games and the lessons behind them also carry on, said parent Courtney Powell with her sons, Caleb, 10, and Micah, 8.
Micah found many of the games “really fun,” like acting out words on flash cards “like charades.”
What Powell knows is that the game opens the door for a child to act out feelings, and for a parent to ask about feelings in ways that get down to their child’s well-being.
The parents learn strategies, Powell said, “how to help the kids . . . what we should do as far as teaching them things in life.”
And they’ll take new friendships with them, said Taylor Wood, with her husband, Brandon, and 5-year-old Caiden and 1-year-old Ellie.
“It’s really nice to get to meet new people,” she said. “We get to discuss things about our kids that we don’t usually get to discuss with other parents of the same age.”
The ceremonial last night could have ended with pomp and circumstance of the promenade and certificates, the eating of the cake and the party that went with it.
But every previous session had ended with “Rain” — a collective piece of performance art where everyone in a large circle begins a wave of migrating sound that gets sent around the circle person-to-person.
Shuffling hands together like wind. Clicking fingers for the first patter of rain. Slapping thighs for hard rain and then stomping with thunder. And finally unwinding it back, sound by sound, to the soft wind.
They had to make it rain one last time.
The joy in their faces, the way the families lingered at the end — all showed that Fort Osage sessions hit their mark, said Jackson the FAST national trainer supervisor..
“You see the smiles on the faces,” he told the FAST team members at the end of the night. “You see families still not wanting to leave . . . that’s because you got it going out here in Fort Osage.”
By Joe Robertson, LINC writer