MOT Charter School asks the parents of its 675 students to volunteer at least 10 hours a year at various school-related activities.

Active parental involvement can be one of the most crucial factors in a child's education.

That's why MOT Charter School in Middletown asks the parents of its 675 students in kindergarten through eighth grades to volunteer at least 10 hours a year at various school-related activities.

"It's part of our charter," explained Head of School Linda Jennings. "We want parents to feel like they're part of a community. That's why we want them to be involved in any way they can, whether it's chaperoning a field trip, coaching a sports team or even just coming in to make copies."

Of the school's many parent volunteers, a dedicated group of about 20 parents, known as the Posse in keeping with the theme of the school's mascot The Mustangs, provide up to an hour of extra reading and math instruction to elementary school students every week.

"When parents sign up, we try to find out what they're skill set and then we provide them training so they feel comfortable helping the students," Principal Elaine Elston said. "The parents are then matched up with different classrooms, although not the ones that their own children are in, because the program is about helping the school as a whole."

Each week, the classroom teacher decides which students will receive extra instruction from the Posse members – typically referred to as Wranglers – and what each weekly lesson will include.

"In some cases, the Wranglers will provide extra assistance to students who might be having some trouble, or they might take some of the higher performing students for a while, so the teacher can focus their lesson on the rest of the class," Elston said. "It gives the kids an extra dose of what they need academically and it's another adult saying to the kids, 'You can do this and we're going to help you do it together.'"

MOT Charter launched the Posse program three years ago after parent Eric Finch asked what he and other parents could do to help the school improve its student reading scores.

"At the time, we had found we were having success with moving our mid-level students to high, but we weren't seeing as much progress with the students who were struggling," Elston said. "Mr. Finch asked what he and other parents could do to help and the idea for the Posse just sort of came out of that conversation."

First grade teacher Lauren Hoskins said the school's reading scores have improved steadily since the Posse program was created.

"The students have really responded to the extra attention and having someone to work with them in small groups, or sometimes even on a one-to-one basis, really makes a huge difference," she said.

Susan Laskos, a professional pilot and flight instructor whose adopted son is in the fifth grade at MOT Charter, said she jumped at the chance to become a Wrangler when the program was first introduced.

"I saw it as an opportunity to know more about where my son is spending his days and to get to know the staff and kids he's going to school with," the Middletown resident said before helping a handful of first graders practice the new vocabulary words the learned while reading a short story. "From Day 1, the school has been a warm environment and they took the time to train and assure us about what we were doing. I've never once felt like I wasn't appreciated or welcome here."

Diana Gotthold, a homemaker from Middletown whose three children have all attended MOT Charter, said she enjoys being a Wrangler so much that she often volunteers twice a week or more.

"Being a Wrangler has made me feel like a part of the whole process and the kids have become like my little buddies," she said. "I've come to know these kids and I love watching them grow. I'm just hoping that after my youngest finishes eighth grade, they won't kick me out because I've made wonderful friends here and I feel like part of a big family."