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Class action: South Pines Elementary’s SPACE program teams parents, teachers

In Amber Parviainen’s second-grade classroom at South Pines Elementary School, students were busy Wednesday coloring in family crests. One-quarter of the shield featured the children’s homes. Another included their family members. One showed their pets, or pets they wished they had, and the last featured things they liked to do.

“This is your narrative,” Parviainen told them. “This is about you.”

Bridey McFarland, for example, drew her two guinea pigs, Nibbles and Chief, and her dog, Winston.

The class is part of the school’s Student, Parent Alternative Classroom Experience, or SPACE. There is one SPACE classroom each in first through fifth grades at the school. Principal Walt Clemons describes it as a family choice program: Parents commit to volunteering 75 hours at the school and contributing $150 or fundraising the equivalent; students from throughout the district can opt into the school. Students stay with their same group of classmates every year.

“I truly believe the thread is that connectedness,” Clemons said. “Everyone wants to be involved with the child’s classroom.”

Parents work with the teachers to find speakers for the class. They help students with reading or tests. Some of them make copies or help the teacher with prep work. Some stuff the Friday folders that go home on the weekends so the teacher doesn’t have to.

Parviainen said she has sent home bags of pencils for parents to sharpen.

“Whatever the teacher needs to spend more time with the kids,” said parent Jessica Osborne, SPACE vice chairwoman.

While the classrooms are part of the SPACE program, it’s not a requirement for families to be involved in the SPACE program to be in the class. If the SPACE class isn’t full, other students are placed in it. Of Parviainen’s 23 students, 22 are in the program.

Parent chairwoman Deanna Dreher said the curriculum is the same in SPACE classrooms as it is in other classrooms.

“Kids don’t even know they are in a SPACE class,” Dreher said. “It’s more of a parent-teacher thing.”

Dreher and Clemons said there is a conscious effort for the whole school to benefit from the program. Some parents volunteer throughout the building. SPACE parents have raised funds to buy a copier for the school and SmartBoards for classrooms.

“We don’t want other kids left behind,” Clemons said. Osborne said SPACE parents account for about 90 percent of the South Pines Parent-Teacher-Student Association memebership. Part of SPACE’s budget benefits the whole school.

“South Pines is a better school because SPACE is here,” she said.

SPACE has been around for many years and there are similar programs in other districts. This year, parents are making a renewed effort to recruit families into the program.

For years they had a page on the Central Valley School District’s website, but it was hard to find and the parent group of SPACE didn’t have access to it because they weren’t district employees. This year they have unveiled a third-party website, Next weekend, they will be in the Valleyfest parade and will have a booth.

Central Valley Spokeswoman Melanie Rose said South Pines is one of the very few schools in the district that is open to students outside of its enrollment area. She also said it is a great place for the SPACE program since it is centrally located in the district.

For Parviainen, teaching in a SPACE class means so much to her.

“I feel like we’re a team,” she said of herself and the parents. “I just love it. I feel spoiled.”