In the staff lounge of Sherman Oaks Elementary School, 26 people working in pairs attempted a humorous task: for 10 seconds, one person clenched their fist as tightly as they could while another person tried to pry open their tightly scrunched hand.
Although the exercise was amusing, it proved a point. The exercise was a metaphor for trying to control others, specifically one’s children.
“What did you feel?” instructor Andres Perez asked the participants in Spanish. “Do you feel respected [when someone tries to force you to do something?]”
Perez wondered aloud what would have happened if the participants had instead asked politely, ‘Would you please open your hand?’
The exercise was just one part of the two-hour class, Positive Discipline for Latino Parents Part I. Thirty-eight people are signed up for the class, which meets once per week, over the course of nine weeks at Sherman Oaks Elementary School. On Feb. 12, 23 women and 3 men participated in the lesson.
Another activity involved the adults working together to describe different types of parenting styles–including strict, negligent and stable but flexible–and the effects the parenting styles have on the children.
Minerva Arellano, a single mom to three children, is taking the class in an effort to become a better mother.
“You want [your kids] to be good people, you want them to be successful in life. Sometimes you don’t know how to do that,” she said.
Arellano found out about the class from her sister-in-law: “She loved it and I am loving it so far,” she said.
The lessons focus on the emotions of the children so parents understand where their kids are coming from, she said.
“It just gives you an idea that you’re not alone,” she said of the class.
Preschool director Gina Phi said the class requires a great deal of role-playing where one person plays a parent and another plays a child. The activities remind parents of how it felt to be kids.
“It really gets to the heart of the matter,” she said.
Phi, who has been working in the district since 1994, said part of her job is finding out what kinds of programs parents most want and need.
“This is probably the most powerful of the classes we’ve offered,” she said.
Topics Perez will cover over the course of nine weeks include why children misbehave, communication, sibling rivalry, self-esteem and positive discipline techniques. The philosophy of the class isn’t based on punishment or rewards but rather on intrinsic motivation.
Perez is also teaching the second level of the class at Rosemary Elementary School on Wednesday evenings. That class involves applying the tools learned in the introductory course to real situations. Parents bring in real dilemmas they are facing and help one another.
“We aren’t experts. They are the experts,” he said of the parents.
Perez has been teaching Positive Discipline courses for about a decade. He founded his own non-profit agency Organizacion Edificando Vidas, or Family Education Values, in 2008. He teaches in several school districts, including those in San Jose, Alum Rock and Campbell.
Marlon Monge is taking the class with his wife in order to “open up the lines of communication” with their children.
The couple has five children ranging from age 4 to 11 who attend Sherman Oaks.
Last week, Monge said the class learned about positive time-outs, which give people time to calm down before reacting to stressful situations. He recalled a time when one of his children broke the new television.
“If we would’ve had these tools, we would’ve reacted totally differently than what we did,” he said.
A specific version of the class, “de hombre a hombre” or “from man to man” is up for the 2014 Hoffman Exemplary Program Award, according to the district’s marketing communication specialist, Marla Sanchez.
Phi said the class was initially offered to mothers or couples during the day but fathers were generally working at that time. She received comments from some of the mothers that they were trying to make changes at home but that their husbands “weren’t on the same page.”
When Phi offered to have a class for both parents to come together, she received an “interesting response.” The mothers said they’d rather the fathers have their own class because, if they were in a class together, the fathers might hang back while the mothers might tend to say, ‘I told you so,’ ” Phi said.
Thus, the Positive Disciple for Latino Parents–“de hombre a hombre” was born. In 2011, the classes were offered to couples, but mothers attended in the morning and fathers attended in the evening. Sanchez wrote that 34 fathers attended the session.
Phi noted that attendance was “extraordinarily high” and that fathers wanted to continue the class when it ended. She said mothers reported that their partners made clear changes at home.
In 2012, 74 men participated in the classes and in fall 2013 another 43 fathers participated, Sanchez wrote.
“Our staff reviewed the grades, discipline reports and attendance records for the students whose fathers participated in the class and saw improvement in each of the categories for most of the students at the site,” Sanchez wrote
Perez pointed out that the parents aren’t required to take the class.
“They choose to come,” he said.
In April, another “de hombre a hombre” class will be offered at Rosemary. Once again, mothers will attend the morning class while fathers will attend the evening class. Meanwhile, a Part II class will be offered to both men and women in the mornings at Rosemary, Phi said.
Eventually, Phi would like to see the class offered at all of the district’s schools.