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PHOTO CAPTION:  Danny Simmons watches Camiel Collins, 4, and her classmates go down the slide May 2 at South Riva Ridge Child Development Center. Simmons is one of several parents who are active in the parent participation program.

May 9, 2013
By Mrs. Michelle Kennedy (Drum)

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- For working parents, daytime activities with their children sometimes are put on hold until the weekend. Fort Drum Child, Youth and School Services is promoting a new parent-involvement initiative at its facilities across post that encourages and rewards working moms and dads for volunteering in their children's child care centers.

This year, the Army released a standard operating procedure for the Parent Participation Program, which includes strict guidelines outlining what activities parents can assist with and how incentives are awarded, according to Claudia Whitmire, Fort Drum CYSS Outreach administrator.

Not only does parent participation benefit the facility, it is a part of the accreditation process. Staff members at South Riva Ridge Child Development Center are enthusiastically trying to grow an active Parent Participation Program.

Under the program, parents earn points for participating in various activities, such as completing questionnaires and surveys; attending parent advisory committee meetings, open houses or events; helping in the classrooms; or serving as chaperones on field trips, according to Nichol Borland, supervisory program specialist at South Riva Ridge CDC.

Participants also can earn points by attending Family Advocacy Program's parenting classes, which are held at Army Community Service, or volunteering for individual projects like creating a newsletter and sewing room decorations or costumes. Whitmire added. Points can be earned only for full-day and part-day child care programs and the School Age Center's summer program.

Borland noted that parents who help in the classrooms are not included in the child care provider-to-child ratio; they only serve as an extra set of hands and eyes.

"Providers go through an extensive training to be a staff member," she said.

Points can be accumulated over several months, and parents can combine their points with their spouses to earn points more quickly, Borland said. When parents accrue 10 points, they can redeem them for 10 percent off of one child's monthly fee, which is applied to the first bill of the month. The discount can be used for only one child each month.

Aside from the financial incentive, the biggest benefit of the program is the positive effect that extra parent interaction has on the children, according to Shawn Jacobs, facility director.

"We've always tried to find ways for parents to be more involved in our programs," he said. "With deployments and Family schedules, it's really complicated."

Jacobs said he fondly remembers his parents visiting his school.

"I remember when my parents would come in just to eat lunch with us. Those are the kinds of memories our children take with (them) forever," he said. "Being in a military setting, it means that much more.

"We have children here who have a mommy and daddy who are deployed," Jacobs said. "They need those memories that they can go back to because it helps them get through the tough times. It means the world to the kids."

Danny Simmons helps out in his 3-year-old twins' preschool room. Danny Jr. and Sky are Simmons' youngest children. He volunteers at least 10 hours each month at the center.

"The kids love it when parents come," Simmons said. "Kids try to show their parents ... their pro-gress and what they're learning."

Clarissa Rasavongsy started volunteering at the facility because her 2-year-old daughter, Taylor, was having separation issues.

"Taylor didn't want me to leave in the morning, so I would just stay for an hour," she said. "I usually stay during breakfast and help clean up after.

"By the time I have to leave, (Taylor) is kicking me out," Rasavongsy said. "The caregivers here are excellent. (Volunteering) lets you get to know the caregivers (and promotes) interaction and communication."

Parents who are interested in participating in the program should inquire with their children's providers or staff members at the facility.