Connecting with families

Carol Koenig helps develop the link between parents and the school system
Wednesday, August 20, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:51 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Throughout her 18 years as a parent educator, Carol Koenig has guided hundreds of families in the Columbia community. Recently, her reputation grew when she was named one of five top parent educators by the Parents as Teachers National Center.

“She really gets invested in a family,” said Jerri Deming, coordinator of the Columbia Parents as Teachers program. “It becomes personal to her — it’s not just a job.”

Koenig said she is honored to represent the Columbia Parents as Teachers program, which is funded by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Columbia Public Schools. It serves families with children under age 5 who are interested in getting more information about parenting and child development. Last year, more than half of the families in the Columbia district participated.

“We are families’ first contacts with the school district, and it creates a positive walkway into the schools,” said Deming, whose staff has grown from three in 1985 to 38 now. “We’re like a bridge.”

Deming hired Koenig after she and her family moved from Rochester, Minn., in 1985. They moved so that her husband, Rob, could take a job in nursing. Before that, she earned her master’s degree in early childhood education from Oakland University in Rochester — coincidentally, writing her thesis on the Parents as Teachers program. It is a national program, but Missouri is the only state that has instituted it statewide.

“I had always liked working with parents. It’s the baseline,” Koenig said.

In a typical week, she makes almost a dozen visits to area families, advising and supporting them.

When Janna Watson’s 3-year-old son began showing signs of developmental delay — not talking or responding — Koenig was encouraging. “She got us through that scary part,” Watson said. “Every experience with her has been awesome.”

Watson, a mother of three, has formed a bond with Koenig. Not only has she learned about parenting, but also about herself, Watson said. “She’s been a teacher for me. She’s always been a part of our family.”

Koenig works with a family from the child’s birth to age 5. But after her work is done, she maintains friendships. “Connection with the families is the best part,” she said.

Buffy Atkins, a single parent of seven and foster mother, has been involved with the program since 1998, when she adopted three babies simultaneously.

“She is a tremendous help,” Atkins said of Koenig. “She was always there to hold my hand and even allow me to blow off steam.”

Atkins has also run into obstacles with parenting and said she’s thankful Koenig was there. “Different children bring about different challenges,” Atkins said. “She helped identify where I needed to be observant. The greatest gift has been someone to bounce ideas off of.”

The best piece of advice Koenig gives is to relax.

“No one thing that you do will ruin your kid,” she said. “Enjoy the time you have, and trust yourself as the expert.”

Koenig credits her family — including sons Don, 24, who lives in Chicago, and Steve, 20, who attends Truman State University in Kirksville — as being her best teachers, “more than any book could.” Now that her sons have left home, she and Rob, who have been married 30 years, are enjoying the empty nest, she said.

She plans to retire after this year but has no plans to be bored. She teaches an infant-massage class and has recently opened a massage therapy business out of her home.

“We’ve all had the pleasure of learning from Carol,” said Deming, the program’s coordinator. “She’s helped us all become better and more knowledgeable.”

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