Panther Parent Academy at Parson Hills Elementary

Panther Parent Academy is an adult education program for Parson Hills Elementary parents that seeks to inform, equip and come alongside families to advocate for their overall economic, social and personal well-being.  

When Camp War Eagle’s After School Program, SOAR, expanded to Parson Hills Elementary in 2015 part of the vision for expanding and growing was to kickstart a program for the families of our kids and the school.

During SOAR’s involvement with Jones Elementary, we came alongside an existing program that the school was running called Parent University. Parent University, or P.U. a weekly opportunity that incentivized parental involvement in classes and topic studies relevant to them culturally, economically and socially. P.U. started with the efforts of Principal Melissa Fink and other Jones teachers. The partnership with SOAR and P.U. led to unique opportunities for deeper partnerships with Camp and the school and strengthened or created relationships that had never before been accessed by our organization.

As a summer camp and an after-school program there is limited interactions with the families of the kids we set out to serve, so this development was indeed unmapped wilderness for Camp War Eagle. It prompted discussion for the new SOAR sight at Parson Hills, which was well funded by the Walton Family Foundation and a 21CCLC grant through the state, to have an element of its program be specifically dedicated to engaging the families of the school.

That led to the Parson Hills site starting what we now call Panther Parent Academy, or P.P.A. The goal of the program is to connect on a personal level with Parson Hills families, and especially those of our SOAR families through weekly gatherings where we facilitate adult classes about cultural, financial and personal issues, provide childcare and offer a family-style dinner. We have partnered with organizations all over the area like Freedom5one, Art Feeds, Team Springdale, The Jones Center, the Springdale Police Department and Springdale Schools.

Principal Heather Cooper, who came to the school four years ago, said it has been difficult to form much or any kind of parent involvement outside of what is mandatory. So when SOAR brought the idea to Mrs. Cooper she was thrilled about the possibilities it would create for the parents to get involved in something that could further the school’s relationships and opportunities for the families.

In previous sessions we have covered things like personal health and wellness and partnered with the school nurse and UofA med students, we also did a miniseries on safety and awareness and brought in the school’s resource officer to give a presentation on gang awareness and even did a miniseries with Freedom 51 on personal finance and budgeting.

This semester we are doing a series inspired by a very successful class at Jones Elementary P.U. called ‘pathway to graduation’ where we bring in guidance counselors from the proceeding schools our Parson Hills students will feed into to talk about the specifics of that grade level. Whether it be emotional health and wellness, athletic or extracurricular opportunities, or how parents can be involved we are covering it from middle school all the way to their college experience.

We also break up these classes with nights of pure fun for the whole family to let loose and have a good time with each other! The most recent one we had was a family BINGO night that was held in the school’s library. We had over 70 people in attendance- some who had never played BINGO before! It was a night full of pizza, prizes and giggles and something that is on the verge of becoming a tradition.

The program is small but growing and we are learning just how much these families care not only about themselves and their own well-being, but that of their kids and we are so grateful for a place to partner with them- we are excited for the coming weeks and years of this partnership!




Growing Together

           As a SOAR staff member, I am always trying to find ways to help better teach the kids educationally and through life lessons.  However, what I don’t think about is that they indirectly teach us, too!  It’s not just a one-way discipline cycle, we all grow and learn through each other and it’s a beautiful thing.

         Monday, September 20th was the very first swimming day of the year.  As a past competitive swimmer I was super pumped to be able to share this past experience with them now.  The kids were super excited when they arrived that day and wanted to fly through dinner so they’d get more time to swim.  As we walked into the hallway the immediate smell of chlorine filled the air and all the kids were jumping with excitement.  Although I had one worry.  It was small and silly but it scared me a little if the kids noticed and reacted.  After we all changed in the locker rooms the kids lined up at the door and met Miss Sam to give them permission to go jump in the pool.  The pool was such a rush; the water is always cold at first but kids never seem to be phased by it.  The boys were throwing the football and the girls playing tag.  It made me happy to see them so happy and enjoying their time. I was just wading through the wavy water making my way around the ecstatic kids.  One boy in particular called me over, and asked me what my name was again since it was only week four of SOAR.  After I told him he remembered saying, “Oh yeah, you wear glasses usually!  And today you look very pretty by the way.”  This struck me as a surprise since he was one of the younger kids and a boy who usually doesn’t think to compliment others at that age.  This comment also happened to confront my worry that day.  My face had been broken out pretty bad and I didn’t want the kids to react in a negative way since we were swimming and it wasn’t going to be covered up.  It’s a silly thing to worry about but it filled my 18-year-old mind.  This little boy’s comment immediately made my day and realized just how thankful I am for their presence in my life.  It’s amazing how they can indirectly make me feel better without even knowing I had the problem in the first place.  The humility children have without even knowing is astounding.  

This experience opened my mind and made me realize this is a perfect example of why Jesus tells us to love others like children do (Matthew 18:3-4).  Children have this unconditional love for everyone.  They accept things in simplicity.  It’s only when we grow up when we start to question everything.  The currency of the kingdom of heaven is faith.  This is why we must have faith like a child.  I am so blessed to be a part of the SOAR family and also have the influence of every single one of these kiddo’s in my life.  We help them, and they also help us develop and learn in the faith, too!

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory now and forever.  Amen.”  2 Peter 3:18

Author: Creighton Panas

Family Bingo Night at Jones SOAR

"Bingo!" Mr. Javier yelled from his table in the back. He had won his first Bingo game. EVER. He had never heard of Bingo. He had no clue what he was getting himself into when his two children had begged him to stay for family bingo night. He had no clue when he said "yes" to his children; and let alone, he had no idea he'd have beginner's luck and win a prize. 

On September 21st we had our first family event of the year at the Jones Center. I had advertised one week in advance and had personally invited families to attend just a couple of days before Bingo Night. I greeted them and reminded them to join us for a night of food, family, and fun hoping to encourage them to come. I had four families that signed up, totaling my numbers up to twenty, and families that verbally told me they would come. I was nervous but very excited to see the outcome for the following day.

Javier & His Family

Javier & His Family

It was finally the day of Family Bingo Night. I was so distressed and worried, especially since I have never had a family event that was specific only to SOAR families, and held in our own program area. I feared that no families would show up and the prizes and pizza I had bought would be a total waste. My mind was in a hundred places at once and my discouraged heart clouded my judgment and my thoughts. A half hour before we kicked off our family night, I distracted myself with clearing bingo boards, finding plates and napkins, and putting the prizes together. (When I am nervous and discouraged, I tend to fidget and distract myself with small busy work.) My colleague, the director of the program, called me out and redirected me to reality. She told me to leave the busy work to her and for me to go get ready to greet families thatwill show up. I repeated that in my head, "will show up, will show up, will show up." And boy, am I forever grateful for her ambitious heart. She saw the positive outcome, and I was only looking at the worst outcome. I let my doubtful heart get the best of me so I chose to rid myself of negative thoughts and I heard a voice telling me "So what if you only have 1-5 people show up? Sit with them. Laugh with them. Play bingo with them. Love them." 

I made my way to the front desk as the last families were checking out of the program. I had one family waiting in the hall and asked them if they were staying and they said "Yes!" There was four of them in the family! My heart leapt for joy and I directed them to the program area. Shortly after, I saw two of our students with their father saying "please, can we stay?" I then went up to Mr. Javier, shook his hand firmly, smiled, and asked how he was and if he'd like to play bingo. He nodded yes and his children jumped with a fist pump as he went to the car to invite his wife, oldest child, and toddler son inside. At this point, I was more than happy to have a total of nine people! Shortly after, a third family arrived and all my doubt was shoved aside. We had fifteen people total. Fifteen! I was ecstatic!

We served the families pizza and I nervously sat down with Mr. Javier's family and asked him about his work and his wife's hobbies. I was afraid the language barrier will shy them away from speaking to me so I kindly asked for his children to translate. I learned that Mr. Javier and his wife has never even heard of the game bingo. I learned about his job and I learned about some of the talents and interests his wife has. I learned about their oldest daughter's passions and strengths in school. I bonded with his two children that are currently in our afterschool program. Oh, how sweet it was to see their faces light up when I would speak to their children! I soon wished I could just sit with them all night and learn more and more about them. But we were running out of time and had a schedule to stick to.

My colleagues were also seeking out families and bonding with them. I was blessed to be able to witness something as simple and kind as them laughing with families, attending to their needs, and serving them to the best of their ability. Words cannot express my gratitude for their help!

Right as we were about to begin the first round of bingo, more and more families kept trickling in. I was preparing bingo and Sam and Andrew were helping families get settled. At one point all three of us were scrambling the get the new families settled! Our number of the night ended at 37! I was so surprised by the number of families that showed up for our first ever family event! What a joy it was to see families enjoying themselves, talking amongst one another, and playing a fun game of bingo. I was completely overwhelmed by tasting and seeing the effect of an afterschool program that brings families together for one purpose--to see grace and love be extended to them as it was extended to us.