Here's one school's approach to increasing parents' involvement in their students' education: Send Mom and Dad back to school. Parents who spend a day walking in their children's footsteps at Central Middle School develop a new appreciation for the rigors of middle school, according to principal Tara Fair. Contrary to what some people might think, the kids are glad their parents are there. Included: Kids and parents share their thoughts about spending Parents Day together.
"Middle school students still need their parents, even when they seem to be pushing them away," says Tara Fair, principal at Central Middle School, which is part of the Edmond (Oklahoma) public school system. "Parents think they have to back off, but middle school is the most crucial time for parents to stay active. They can be involved and know what's going on and still give children room to grow and gain independence. It's a balance."
BACK TO SCHOOL FOR PARENTS!
To help parents achieve that balance, Fair came up with the idea to invite parents and significant others into school for the day -- the whole day!
"We do open houses in September; parents come in at night and rotate through their kids' classes and find out about curriculum and activities," Fair tells Education World. On Central Middle School's Parents Day, however, parents go to school all day with their children!
"When we started the program four years ago, we had to clarify that we didn't want a dog-and-pony show," Fair explains. "We encouraged the teachers not to change anything -- to go on with their regular activities and maintain as normal a day as possible. We know ahead of time which parents have accepted the invitation, so we set up chairs for parents to buddy up at their child's desk in each class.
"If the kids go to their lockers, the parents go to the lockers. When the kids go to lunch, the parents go to lunch. If the kids are taking a test," Fair warns, "the parents take the test!"
MIDDLE SCHOOL TODAY: A MIX OF THE NEW AND THE FAMILIAR
Such tests can be eye-openers for parents, according to teacher Jan Jewell. Jewell is a special education teacher at Edmond's Cheyenne Middle School; she taught at Central Middle last year. "I don't think parents expected the level of material to be so advanced," Jewell, a strong proponent of the program, tells Education World. "Parents commented that they were not sure they could have answered some of the questions the students had to grapple with!"
Principal Fair sees parents develop a new appreciation for the energy it takes both to be a middle schooler and to work with this high-energy age group. "Parents stop by my office to tell me they are exhausted!" Fair laughs.
"Parents Day made me aware of the care shown to the students by teachers, secretaries, and administrators," concurrs Kay, the parent of sixth grader Samantha. "And I had forgotten how busy and long a school day can be."
On Parents Day, Central Middle School provides a break room where parents can look at scrapbooks, pamphlets, and education articles. "Not many parents seem to use the break room," Fair tells Education World. "They really want to go to school with their kids."
THE PARENTS DAY ADVANTAGE"We want to open the doors and build community," Fair says, explaining the impetus for the Parents Day program. "I think it has created a better understanding for parents of how their children actually experience school. When they talk to their children about the school day, they have a visual image."
"Now when I come home from school, my parents don't just ask 'So how was science today?' because they know more about what I could have learned," agrees sixth grader Samantha.
"I liked it that parents understand our schedules and know what's going on," seventh grader Jordan adds.
PARENTS DAY IMPROVES COMMUNICATION IN SCHOOL AND OUT"Parents Day not only helps parents feel welcome and involved in school but also introduces parents to the different techniques and personalities of each teacher," says Fair. "When parent conferences come up in November, parents have a better understanding of how each teacher works. That really helps," Fair tells Education World.
"I liked that my parents got to see how all my teachers taught," says Samantha. "I also liked that they got to see all the people in my class and the people I hang out with."
The bottom line may be that Parents Day helps parents of middle schoolers stay connected to their adolescents as they meet the daily demands of learning and growing. Although middle school students may not always want their parents at school, on the day everyone's parent comes in, kids are glad to have their parent attend.
"Parents Day showed me that my parents were interested in what I was doing," eighth grader Megan tells Education World.
"Megan loved Parents Day," says her dad, Bob. "I wanted to participate because I am interested in my daughter's overall learning experience. Sitting in class next to her as a proud parent was the most important part of the day."
"Strengthening my relationship with my child was the most important and meaningful result of participating in Parents Day," says Jamie, seventh grader Jordan's mom. "Experiencing the day with my son gave us the feeling that we're in this together."
ADDITIONAL PARENT INVOLVEMENT RESOURCES
Great Ideas to Involve Middle School Parents
Principal Chris Toy asked MiddleWeb Listserv members to think about ways schools can encourage parental input in schools.