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Program bonds family and school

May 03, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

Robert Gray Sr. is 49 and has cancer. He hasn't had a lot of good days lately and sometimes that is hard on his son.

"He's only 8 ... he doesn't understand why daddy can't do things with him," Gray said.

Father and son have hooked up with the School/Family Liaison program.

Initiated six years ago by the Department of Social Services and the Washington County Board of Education, the major thrust is to improve communication between home and school.

Director Tamara Puffenberger said the program aims for early intervention, working with counselors in the schools and parents at home.

"We started out with one person handling several schools," she said. "Now there are four full-time people working in all 25 elementary schools in Washington County."

One of those full-time workers is Derek Getic who works with a number of youngsters, including Robert Gray Sr.'s son.

"The boy was referred to us and we got involved," Getic said.

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When the home situation became apparent, Getic said he began spending time with the child in an effort to fill in somewhat where his father was unable.

"They really helped out at Christmas," said Robert Gray Sr.

A local company helped with meals, gifts and a Christmas tree, all through the liaison program.

"And they took my son fishing the other day," he said, pointing out that it was with a fishing pole he got last Christmas.

Although sad that he's missing out on his son's childhood, Robert Gray Sr. said he is glad his son has someone who can take him places and do things with him.

"Some days, I just can't get out of bed," he said.

Getic said he also spends time working with the youngster at school, where he tries to give him his undivided attention for about 45 minutes each day.

"It has totally changed his behavior at school," Getic said.

Puffenberger said the program works closely with pupil personnel workers and often gets involved at the earliest stages of a problem.

The program provides academic and homework help, works with families trying to cope with a child's behavioral difficulties, anger management and attendance issues.

"We work with school counselors and we also go to the homes," Puffenberger said. With the program for two years, Puffenberger said staff members visit the homes of all new first-graders each year.

Getic came on board in 1999 and often finds he is the only male involved with elementary school-age children.

"I enjoy being in schools and working with that age of kids, especially if I can get to them before they get into trouble," Getic said.

Puffenberger said the key is strengthening the home/school relationship so parents can perform their most valuable role as the primary teachers of their children.

For more information on the program, call 240-420-2371.

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