SANTA NELLA - A program designed to empower parents not only in school-related matters but civic involvement is being offered through the Gustine Unified School District.

Romero Elementary will host a Parent Leadership Training Institute beginning in January, following school board approval of the $15,800 program at its Dec. 11 meeting.

The 20-week program is offered free of charge to parents, with child care and food provided.

Maria and Gerzayr Alapizco, two local parents who have gone through the institute and are trained as facilitators, advocated for the program before the board reached its decision.

As a facilitator, Maria Alapizco told the board, “I see the growth of parents through the 20 weeks, how their voice is being heard and how their opinions are being valued. I have also noticed how much more engaged they have become with their children’s education and how they advocate for other children in the community.”

She said that the first 10 weeks of the institute are dedicated to participants learning to develop their civic duties as parent leaders and learning about community needs. The second half of the program, she shared, is focused on learning about the functions of local government, legislative process and elected representatives.

“With this program, we will have more parents engaged with their children’s education and with community events,” she added.

Dr. Bryan Ballenger, district superintendent, said the institute is more extensive than the Parent Institute for Quality Education which local schools have hosted in the past.

“This is a little more involved. It is a longer course and more in-depth,” he explained. “It is geared not only to help them understand the school system but how local government and organizations work. I’m excited about it. We are trying to continue to empower each of our stakeholder groups. This is one way we can empower our parents and families.”

Kim Medeiros, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, concurred.

It is really just empowering out parents to understand the laws and rules that go with our community,” Medeiros told the school board. “The parents are going to get a lot more than normally they get out of their parent institutes. This is really about building leadership capacity.”

Medeiros said she believes the institute will be particularly powerful because local parents are involved in conducting the training. Learning from fellow community members and parents only strengthens the program, she remarked.

The program includes a retreat.

Participants also develop and complete a community service project.

Ballenger said the program is offered in English and Spanish.

While based at Romero, Medeiros said, the institute is open to parents from throughout the district.

“I think it is a great investment in our parents,” she commented.

Parents seeking additional information on the institute may contact Medeiros at 854-3784.