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Sheila Kyer knows well the everyday troubles and exhaustion that can come with parenting. So the single mother decided she wanted to do more to help parents in her community.

Kyer has partnered with Poe Middle School’s after-school specialist, Amanda Sperling, to form a parent support group. The group started small at the end of last school year, but over this summer the two are working to expand its reach.

The group, “Parents Helping Parents,” got its inspiration from Kyer’s own experience, both as a mother and as a volunteer at Poe’s after-school program.

Every Wednesday, Kyer and other volunteers from Annandale United Methodist Church helps organize a weekly dinner for more than 100 Poe students and their families in the after-school program.

One Wednesday, a mother came to Sperling, the head of the after-school program, to express her appreciation for the dinner. The mother said she had been struggling to communicate with her daughter, but the dinner had helped them get back in touch with the community and one another.

Sperling shared the story with Kyer, who saw a void to fill in the community.

“I felt the need to reach out to that parent and let her know that there are other parents who have been in that place,” Kyer said. “I want to create this space for parent discussion, because it’s what I needed as a parent.”

When Kyer’s youngest daughter, now 20, was a student at nearby Glasgow Middle School, she also struggled with the transition to teenagedom. Looking for advice, Kyer had to travel to Great Falls to attend the closest parent support group to her Annandale home.

With her three children now all grown up and thriving, Kyer wanted to provide a place for parents in her community that she did not have.

As soon as Kyer approached Sperling, the after-school specialist jumped on board. Within weeks, the two had put together the first meeting with the goal of providing a safe space for parents to share their thoughts and receive support from other parents and the school.

With only a week between Poe Middle School’s spring break and the April 29 meeting, Kyer and Sperling had little chance to spread the word to the community. The first meeting attracted just four parents.

Kyer and Sperling were happy to help whoever they could, and quickly followed with another small-scale meeting in May. But the two decided to use this summer to plan for the group’s expansion. They have started an outreach campaign and already are seeing their seeds blossom, according to Sperling.

“Our first group really loved the opportunity to talk and get support, but now we have more and more people inquiring about the group and getting excited,” Sperling said. “You can really feel it building.”

The parent support group is supported through Poe Middle School’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant from the Virginia Department of Education. The three-year grant, awarded in 2013, provides the school close to $200,000 annually to support after-school and summer school programs as well as parent engagement opportunities.

Through the grant, Poe Middle School provides free childcare and Spanish translation for the parents attending the group meetings.

Starting with the next meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 19, “Parents Helping Parents” will meet once a month at Poe Middle School throughout the upcoming school year. Kyer and Sperling have advertised the meeting through the school, local churches and even other nearby schools.

Parents have already reached out to express interest, allowing Kyer and Sperling to tailor the discussion for the first meeting to participants’ needs. The August meeting will focus on students’ transitions to middle school and high school.

For future meetings, Sperling plans to invite speakers such as Poe’s counselors or School Resource Officer to address other parent questions and concerns.

“I’m learning what parents have on their radar screens, and often it’s things I wouldn’t expect,” Sperling said. “As a school, this group can help us learn how to better help our parents.”

Sperling is hoping the group can provide a template for other schools, so parents and educators across the county can reap the benefits.

“The group provides me with another awesome opportunity to connect with these parents and families in another way,” Sperling said. “I work with their children, but when it comes to families I’m usually on the outside. This group peels back some of the layers.”

For more information, contact Sheila Kyer at 703-981-6080 or Kyer027@aol.com or Amanda Sperling at acsperling@fcps.edu.



kyanchulis@fairfaxtimes.com