Mother ignites movement, remains Parents as Teachers advocate

Michael, Michelle, Willow and Hayden

by Jacob Kirn

Michelle Gieselman is a mother of three in the Kansas City area. In 2009, she launched a Facebook page fighting devastating state budget cuts to Parents as Teachers in Missouri. Her efforts helped collect almost 16,000 followers and created awareness for a rally at the capitol in Jefferson City.

Q: How did you first hear about Parents as Teachers?

I was 17 when I had my first son Michael. My high school had a nursery for its teen moms and we had to take a parenting class to be able to use it. A Parents as Teachers educator came in to speak. She was wonderful and I started seeing her for home visits.

Q: What was it about that experience that made you an advocate of the program?

When Michael was 6 months old, he wasn’t doing a lot. I thought it was normal because he was just a baby. I didn’t realize he should have been pushing his arms up and holding his upper torso up. My parent educator showed me that, and it allowed me to have a more meaningful conversation with my pediatrician.

Q: What happened when you heard about the potential budget cuts to Parents as Teachers?

I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. I was watching the news and I saw the story so I called Martha (her parent educator) and asked her if she was going to lose her job. She didn’t know. But she said people should contact their state representatives and the governor. So I started the Facebook page. By the third day, there were over 1,000 followers.

Q: Did it have an impact?

It really spread the news. I think people didn’t realize education would be cut, and that Parents as Teachers would be affected. I said, ‘If you participate in this program, you need to speak out! We don’t want this to go away.’ Parents as Teachers educators are the most wonderful people and our children are the future. The more we do what’s right for them now, the better off we’ll all be in the long run.

Gieselman’s Facebook page remains active and is now jointly administered with the national Parents as Teachers office. Last year, because of its size, it transitioned from a group to a fan page. It provides news updates and an outlet for parents to share stories and communicate. This year, about $3 million in funding has been restored to Parents as Teachers by the Missouri General Assembly.

Jacob Kirn is a journalism major at University of Missouri-Columbia and an intern at Parents as Teachers.