Education leaders reconvened on Tuesday to continue discussing how to help kids by helping their parents. The approach, known as the "Two-Gen" method is based on data showing a child's trajectory is largely determined by their parents' stability.

SARASOTA -- Extreme poverty forced Tabita Pineda, 39, to abandon her dream of becoming a lawyer. Growing up in Mexico, Pineda had to drop out of school and work on a farm to earn money for her family.

When she moved to the United States 16 years ago, Pineda spoke no English and lacked the basic understanding of how schools operated and how her children could thrive.

But when her children began attending Sarasota’s Gocio Elementary School, she went back to school as well. Pineda attended English classes at Gocio twice a week. The program, named Families Together, aims to equip parents with the skills they need to help their children succeed.

“I’ve learned the steps to help my child’s education,” Pineda said Wednesday at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Two-Gen summit at the Lee Weterington Boys and Girls Club. “They will one day go to college.”

Pineda sat alongside more than 230 leaders who convened in Sarasota this week for the two-day conference on how organizations working with children can achieve better results by extending services to parents as well. The strategy – known as the “two-gen approach” – has gained traction nationally as an effective method in tackling generational poverty and its effect on children.

“We have data, we have science that clearly states the case that if you want a child to thrive, a parent’s economic status, educational status and health status are some of the most important indicators for child success,” said Anne Mosle, vice president of the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C., and executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute.

On Tuesday, the conversation focused on why and how a two-gen approach can be effective. Wednesday’s sessions focused on the challenges and obstacles organizations face as they expand their services to parents.

Veterans of the approach from area organizations talked about how they have increased their multi-generational outreach.

In Manatee County, several Title I schools host family nights through Soar in Four, a collaborative program run by the School District of Manatee County, the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County and Head Start.

The program focuses heavily on teaching parents about how they can read books at home with their children.

“We show them, ‘This is what you can do to continue keeping your child engaged at home,” said Sheila Halpin, an early learning curriculum specialist with the school district.

One of the largest obstacles organizations face as they expand their outreach is measuring success. Boards overseeing new initiatives will often want to see quantifiable results, but in the early stages it can be hard for organizations to know what to measure.

John Annis, senior vice president for collaboration and impact with the Barancik Foundation, said organizations shouldn’t get hung up on determining the perfect measure for assessing success.

“Let’s not get stuck on the evaluation piece,” Annis said.

Annis said some programs simply survey parents’ attitude on several topics before and after they begin participating in a program. He said after parents engaged in conversations about their child’s education, the assumption that the child would attend college dramatically increased.

“They would say, ‘Well of course my kid is going to go to college,’” Annis said. “Many of the kids and parents hadn’t even been thinking about it before.”

Organizations also are dealing with parents with an array of challenges -– low wages, lack of education, no social connections for career advancement, and personal histories replete with traumatic experiences. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming.

Shannon Rohrer-Phillips, the co-founder of Visible Men Academy in Bradenton, said leaders need to resist a one-size-fits all approach but to constantly assess what their children’s families’ need.

“Get to know your families and follow their lead,” Phillips said. “Don’t undermine what they are capable of.”