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Families celebrate LIFE at Great Bend schools
Dani and Brandon Kultgen and their children wear hats made during a family activity, Thursday night at Eisenhower school. Several families spent the past eight weeks attending Eisenhowers LIFE class, which ended with a Mad Hatter party and graduation. - photo by photos by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Making silly hats to wear at a Mad Hatter Party was one of the favorite activities of at least one Eisenhower Elementary School family. While it seemed like a small thing, this and other family activities may help children excel in school.
Once a week for eight weeks, several families met at the school in the evenings for Literacy Integrated Family Engagement (LIFE) sessions, a component of Kansas Reading Roadmap (KRR). These evening meetings brought families together to share a meal and learn more about each other.

Other elementary schools in Great Bend are also wrapping up their fall LIFE programs. On the final night, which was last Thursday for Eisenhower’s group, families are honored with a graduation ceremony and party.
This was Eisenhower’s third year and the school has now had 38 families graduate from the program, said Cindy Sandy at the school.
Eisenhower’s celebration was attended by two special guests who were Eisenhower Eagles themselves when they were children; Kansas Representative Tory Arnberger was a student there from 1998 to 2005 and KRR representative Kim (Casey) Fertig, who now works in Topeka, attended from 1974 to 1981.

“It was so fun to be back at Eisenhower after all these years and see the changes,” said Fertig. “Attending KRR LIFE graduations is always rewarding, but being at my former grade school made it even more special to me.”
During LIFE sessions, families enjoy a meal together and spend time with their children reading, talking, and learning about each other. LIFE sessions are designed to connect families with schools, deepen children’s relationships with their parents, and enhance their reading skills. Research shows that parental involvement helps children to develop their literacy skills, and during LIFE sessions, parents learn fun ways to read aloud with their children, while also learning to connect with their children on a personal level.
After dinner in the school cafeteria, the families moved to the school library to play board games. Sometimes the families have done crafts, and at other times they were given blocks and the children decided what they would create, Fertig said. “This is a positive experience where the child can lead the play. This doesn’t have anything outright to do with literacy; it’s more about the continuation of strengthening the family bonds.”

There are also more specific exercises, such as teaching the families “attuned listening.”
After the family time, children were taken to another room for more play time and the parents and guardians were able to talk to each other and LIFE coordinators about how they planned to maintain the gains they’ve made in the past eight weeks. One parent said she would spend the time she’s been setting aside for LIFE class to read with her student. Others shared recent “parenting victories” or behavioral concerns.
Many LIFE graduates stay in touch after the class ends, and there is a “Friends for LIFE” program, Sandy said. “It’s nice to see that positive things like the Kansas Reading Roadmap and the LIFE program are happening at Eisenhower,” Arnberger said.
All five Great Bend elementary schools are recipients of the KRR grant and offer the LIFE program to school families. Arnberger has attended LIFE graduations at Lincoln, Park, and Eisenhower, and plans to attend celebrations at Riley and Jefferson in early December.
“As a legislator and a substitute teacher here in Great Bend, I definitely see the need to help families through education,” said Arnberger. “I’m proud of these LIFE graduates for putting in the time to learn new ways to promote literacy at home.”

About KRR
KRR is a pre-kindergarten through third-grade literacy model serving more than 12,000 children and their families in 60 sites statewide.
KRR ensures that Kansas children receive an opportunity to learn to read through a pathway designed to fit their individual needs. Implemented during school through the Kansas Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), KRR is built on a skills-based, systematic framework recommended by the National Reading Panel.
KRR provides targeted reading practice for struggling readers within the school’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports, and after school. KRR also offers summer programs.
More information about KRR is available at