Jessica and Derek Moreno believe family time often is taken for granted.

The Morenos have two daughters, Kristen and Hailey, who attend Gertrude Walker Elementary School. The Morenos were one of six families who graduated from the eight-week Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE) program at the school Monday evening. The six families made a total of 41 people. Each Monday night for eight weeks, parents and children engaged in activities to bring them closer together while connecting them to their school community, according to a press release from USD 457.

LIFE includes a meal, parenting skills training, child-led playtime, parent-led reading aloud, and a parent support group.

The activities helped build comfort and familiarity throughout the program. In each session parents practiced the skills they learned with their children and received coaching and feedback from facilitators.

During the graduation ceremony, Jamie Schweer, Kansas Reading Roadmap coordinator for Gertrude Walker Elementary, said the youth are our future.

“No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you will be great,” she told the graduates. “We’re really proud of what you done and what you’re going to do because I know the journey has not stopped. I know will you continue to do these things and grow your family.”

LIFE is funded through the KRR, which was spearheaded by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2013. He reallocated $9 million in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to pay for KRR, now a project of the Kansas Department for Children and Families in partnership with the Kansas Department of Education.

According to past school board documents, recipients and amounts of the grants distributed to participating district schools are as follows: Abe Hubert Elementary School, $137,390; Gertrude Walker Elementary School, $141,950; Buffalo Jones Elementary School, $146,135, Victor Ornelas Elementary School, $141,950; and Florence Wilson Elementary School, $137,390.

Antoinette Martinez, one of the five LIFE team members, which helps with Gertrude Walker’s LIFE program, said the work the families have put in toward the program over the last eight weeks is apparent.

“Your families are stronger,” Martinez said. “And because your families are stronger, the community is stronger.

Each school works with teachers and principals in selecting students for the KRR and LIFE program. Derek Moreno said his family decided to participate in the program to get involved with the community.

“The kids know each other so we thought it’d be nice if the parents met each other as well,” Derek Moreno said.

One thing that was instilled in Derek Moreno from the program was that he and others must make time for their kids.

“It’s just taught how to be more of a family,” he said. “You know, put the electronic devices down and just hang out as one.”

The program also helped break down how to connect with his children and talk to them one-on-one, he added.

“I think when you work long days — I mean, you get home and you’re really tired and you kind of lose track on one-on-one time,” he said.

Jessica Moreno said the program helped her and her husband learn more activities to do at home as a family.

She learned several life lessons from the program and will continue to use them. Some of those things include eating together at the dinner table as a family and talking about what they are thankful for at the end of the night.

Jessica Moreno said her children were already decent readers before joining the LIFE program, but the program has helped them come out of their shell and has helped them let their guard down when it comes to reading in front of people.

“They’ve developed some really good friendships, too,” Jessica Moreno said.

Josh Harbour can be reached at jharbour@gctelegram.com

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