‘They say prayers with their friends and socialize with them’
They eagerly come to learn and share --- the moms, dads and grandparents with small children in tow, attending weekday parent education classes at St. Bede the Venerable in La Cañada. From one class begun in the spring of 2010, the program has blossomed into three classes this fall with a Kinder Prep planned for early next year.
The rapid success of the “side-by-side” learning environment for parents and their preschool age children with an emphasis on faith and values has amazed even its director/instructor, Jo Ann Gantus, a mother of four grown children, certified life coach, retired kindergarten teacher, founder of the parenting program for the Pregnancy Help Center in Temple City, and former 15-year parent education teacher for Glendale College.
“Wonderful things are happening here; I believe it was a divine inspiration,” said Gantus, who had several St. Bede parents in her GCC parent education classes. “I sat up in bed one morning in August and I remember thinking, this program should be in the Catholic Church at St. Bede.” She notes that some preschooler graduates of the St. Bede’s parent education classes have “spring-boarded” into the parish school kindergarten.
“I love preparing children for kindergarten and having their mothers watch me do that,” said Gantus. “I always say the parent is the student and the child is the lab.” The adults participate with their child in many activities, including prayer, art, music, storytelling, social skills and school readiness.
They take turns watching the children during free play after outdoor snack time, when the majority of the mothers go into a separate classroom for the parenting discussion group led by Gantus, who opens the meeting by inviting moms to share prayer requests.
“We do a lot of praying here,” said Gantus. “Our moms need a lot of encouragement and support, and they need to know that God is always right there, you just need to call on him.” Discussions explore Catholic Christian issues, including age-related stages of development, family values, moral development, discipline and “nurturing ourselves as parents.”
During “rug time” when the parents are together with their children, Gantus leads them all in the Sign of the Cross and prayers like the “Our Father.” Recently, Msgr. Antonio Cacciapuoti, pastor, paid a visit and “you could have heard a pin drop” because of everybody’s rapt attention, said Gantus.
“I like that we’re able to pray and we’re able to have Msgr. Antonio come into the class,” said Gina Lindberg, who attends with her two-year-old son, Joseph. “I think it’s amazing to get that moral aspect. I love it.”
MaryEllen Sather, who recently celebrated a year in the program with her three-year-old daughter Claire, said she feels lucky to have had the program recommended to her when she moved into the parish since she plans on a Catholic education for her children “all the way through.”
“The parent education part is invaluable [with] all these wonderful topics about how to build community in your family and cooperation,” said Sather. Her daughter, she adds, was well-prepared for preschool, which she attends a couple of days a week.
“Claire didn’t have separation anxiety and was already used to rug time. She had a great transition into preschool,” said Sather.
Cambria Nakane-Sankey, who attends with her son, Tristan, and previously brought her now-kindergarten-enrolled daughter, says she looks forward to coming every week. “I love how Miss Jo Ann merges the spiritual side and the family side with parenting values and I like how she demonstrates hands-on how to work with the children,” said Nakane-Sankey.
“I come because I love the discussion with the other ladies,” said Christi Matarese, who attends the Wednesday multi-age class with her sons Charlie, 3, and Luca, 17 months. “I get such good ideas, but I especially love it for the kids, because she has things for kids of all ages. There’s so much with the crafts, stories and singing and the interaction with the other children. We love that it’s prayer-based and that they say prayers with their friends and socialize with them.”
Peter Santana, attending along with his wife and son, Adrian, says it’s a great program for moms and dads. “I’ve learned to do a bit of extra babysitting with all the other kids, because I help out outside in the yard [during the discussion time]. It’s a lot of fun,” said Santana. “If there’s more parents out there who can get their kids involved, it would be very helpful for them.”