Velvet Coleman taught at Greenbrier Elementary for 16 years before she was hired as a student and family engagement facilitator for Charlottesville City Schools. Credit: Credit: Josh Mandell, Dexter Auction

When Velvet Coleman talks to parents about things they can do to help their children succeed in school, she starts with the obvious: Don’t let them be late.

“To a child, showing up late for class is like when you show up 15 minutes late for a movie — you don’t know what is going on,” Coleman said. “In school, that’s a real problem.”

As the student and family engagement facilitator for pre-kindergarten to second grade at Charlottesville City Schools, Coleman doles out advice and offers support to parents and children throughout the city, meeting them in their homes, classrooms and community centers.

“Every day is totally different, but it’s always about building relationships with students and families,” she said. “I just try to empower parents with information, so they can help their children be more successful.”

Coleman was hired for the new position in July. She previously taught kindergarten, first and second grade during her 16 years at Greenbrier Elementary.

Jim Henderson, Charlottesville’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the division added Coleman’s position this year to extend learning beyond the limited hours of the school day.

“We don’t want teachers and parents to be in silos; we want them to work together,” he said. “When we build connections between school and home, and build trust, everybody wins.”

Coleman is making an extra effort to reach families with preschool-age children. She has conducted more than 60 home visits this year to help parents prepare their kids for kindergarten.

“As a kindergarten teacher, I saw some students come into school not knowing numbers from letters,” she said. “My goal is for our kids to come to school prepared and ready and excited about school and learning.”

Coleman said her meet-and-greets at school bus stops are among her more innovative and successful methods of engaging with families this year. She has frequented stops at public housing sites with informational handouts for parents, and snacks for children.

Coleman recently organized a workshop that introduced parents to positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), a method of teaching behavioral expectations that has been implemented in all of Charlottesville’s elementary schools.

When implementing their school-wide PBIS programs, each elementary has adopted a set of three to five key guidelines for student behavior. For instance, at Jackson-Via Elementary, teachers and staff tell students to “Be safe, be respectful, be responsible.”

“We encourage families to use those same expectations at home,” Coleman said.

At the Westhaven public housing site this week, Coleman talked to a group of seven women about things they could do with their children at home during the winter recess, including baking, board games and reading out loud.

“These are things you can do instead of letting them play on their iPhone or iPad all day,” she said. “But you don’t have to take away the technology completely. That’s how the world is now; we all need to be tech-savvy.”

Coleman frequently draws upon her teaching experience to recommend age-appropriate educational activities for children of different grade levels. In Westhaven this week, she gave the mothers a laminated 10 by 10 number grid as a tool for teaching their children how to count to 100.

Coleman wrapped up the workshop by encouraging the mothers to consider joining a PTO committee at their child’s school.

“There are some great ideas and opinions in this room,” she said. “Your voice matters. You and your child matter.”

Westhaven resident Ashley Freeman said she liked Coleman’s ideas for turning a family’s daily chores into learning experiences.

“You can teach things when you’re in the kitchen or at the grocery store; you don’t have to sit your kids down and make them learn,” Freeman said.

Frances Tibbs said Coleman’s class gave her a better understanding of what her children were experiencing at school.

“She shows me how I can talk to my kids like a teacher; and how teachers are talking to my kids,” Tibbs said.

Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.