by Dr. Don Dinkmeyer, Jr., Ph.D., STEP author
The first day of the New Year is always – the first day of school, not January 1st. I am an educator! Our year begins in August, when the AC is turned up and it is hard to start anything, much less a parent education group.
Parents are also starting a new school year with their children. This makes right now a great time to start a STEP group. If you want to start a group, this column is for you. It can also be a checkpoint for ongoing parent education programs.
The first decision is – make a commitment. Promise yourself to offer the course at least twice this year. This willingness allows you to learn from the first experience, and benefit from the word of mouth referral from the first STEP group. You might offer one course in the fall and the second early in the calendar year. Parents make New Year’s resolutions!
The next decision is about which program to offer – Teen, Early Childhood, Spanish, or STEP. It may be an easy decision. If you work at a junior high, the Teen program would be preferred. If you are connected to a daycare or childcare facility, Early Childhood is the answer. Remember that STEP groups are often run on a contract basis for agencies and institutions, so you do not have to be full-time employed to offer STEP with a facility.
A full-time employee may be in one of two positions:
- it’s your idea to run the STEP group, or
- it is now a part of your job description.
In the second situation, make sure your supervisors understand and embrace the value of this new assignment. When your organization supports you, life is a lot easier. Here’s one reason parent groups are worth your time and expense: sphere of influence. With 10 parents, there are 5-10 spouses, and at least 10 children or teens being directly influenced by the STEP group. That is 25 to 40 people being affected by one employee in 90 minutes or less.
Some settings have used a survey to gauge interest and preferences of their parents. The survey can ask some or all of these questions:
- Do you have an interest in a group? (Describe it as 7 sessions, an hour each, once a week)
- Which day of the week would be best? What time of day?
- Would it help if we arranged daycare?
This or similar surveys work to publicize the idea of parent education and gives you critical information about your group’s preferences. If the question of “which” program to offer is asked, you can ask parents for the age(s) of their children. This gives you an idea of the numbers and distribution of your potential audience.
We’ve previously discussed some of the publicity tools in every STEP kit:
- An introductory 8 minute video which can be played on cable tv, or duplicated and distributed to potential members. Some tech-competent person will learn how to put this on the ‘web and steer interested parents to that website (when you do, please let me know!)
- Advertising inserts – for handouts, newspapers, or flyers. These can also be scanned to be placed on websites or inserted into emails.
- Campaign schedule – a suggested 6 week campaign, including mails/emails, deadlines for registration, and a news release is also in the kit.
A very important aspect of startup is getting commitment from the parents. We’ve found the following keys:
- Charge something, anything, for the group – if only a dollar. It’s far better than a free-session. I’ve received confirmation of this concept from leaders in many different settings, including agencies who offer the class at little to no cost.
- Give discounts for early registration AND registrations of two or more at a time. Example: Class is $100; 10% if registered by 3 weeks before first session, 10% if two or more register at the same time. Sam and Vernette sign up together 22 days before the group, it is 80 for each of them. Money is a motivator.
- Pay attention to your survey or intuition on the type of group, timing, location. Give parents what they want.
Every child has the right to an education – of their parents. In the next message, I will focus on additional details on preparing for the first group, and the first group session. -D.D.