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Most administrators recognize the need to get parents involved in school activities, but often efforts to draw them into the educational equation yield disappointing results. Education World writer Cara Bafile tracked down some educators who have worked hard to win over parents. Included: Strategies for Parent Days, parent teams, more!
"We began Parent Day last year," Jan Jewell told Education World, "to provide another avenue for middle school parents to remain involved at school." On that day, parents shadow their children as they move through a typical school day.
"It is hard to tell whether the day is more enjoyable for the parents or the students!" said Jewell, a special education teacher at Cheyenne Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma. "The students enjoy having their parents at school, and it's really an enriching time for parents to be able to see what a typical day is like for their child."
Teachers adjust their lesson plans a little for this day, but typically they try to offer a glimpse of a regular day's activities rather than administering a test, explained Jewell. "In my math classes," she added, "the kids try to 'stump' their parents!"
Parent Day is not a disruption to the educational process, noted Jewell. "In fact, this collaboration enhances the feeling that we are a team doing the best we can for each and every child."
Parent Day at CMS started as a response to a growing student population. Three years ago, the school only held sixth graders. Last year, a seventh grade wing opened, and this year the eighth grade has moved into its new quarters at the school. With the addition of the new students and new grade levels, the school needed an event that would bring in parents and get them involved in school activities.
"We spread the word about Parent Day in many ways," said Jewell. "We send home monthly newsletters and information. We post information on the marquee in front of the school -- and on our Schoolnotes.com Web sites. We talk to our 'Cheyenne Councils' [advisory period groups] and ask them to remind parents to come for Parent Day."
The positive comments we receive from parents -- and students -- make the extra effort very worthwhile," Jewell concluded.
"TOYING" WITH AN IDEA
"I brought the parent team idea with me when I became principal eleven years ago," explained Chris Toy, of Freeport (Maine) Middle School. "My idea was that, if the team concept is a good way to organize a middle school, it also might also be a good way to organize parents of middle schoolers. Plus, the team concept incorporates parents into the organizational structure of the school."
The Freeport Middle School "parent team" approach, which assigns parents defined roles as school leaders and representatives, is announced through newsletters and at such events as open house. "There's a leadership structure that is organized by grade level and 'homebase' (homeroom) representatives," said Toy. "There is also a coordinator of volunteers, as well as homebase contacts who agree to make periodic calls/emails to each family in a child's homebase. Volunteers from the parent team also work in the office each week."
"Monthly evening programs are better attended because the topics are developed with input from more parents," Toy stated. "The parent team has been a key component in helping develop school- and system-wide goals for the school committee. Increased resources for library funding, technology, foreign language, and classroom size reduction have all been supported by the parent team."
Toy finds his greatest challenge is "getting the word out." "I think that having specific things for parents to do and then asking them to do those things is a big key," he noted.
"So far, a combination of e-mail, newsletters, and phone calls seems to work," added Toy, but "I have to keep remembering that in our 6-8 school, I lose 30 percent of my trained parents every year, and gain 30 percent brand new parents. The work of educating parents never ends."
Parent Day and the parent team are great ways to bring in parents and encourage them to join in school activities. Following is a handful of additional suggestions:
Volunteer Resource Book
The National PTA offers this suggestion among the Project Ideas on its Web site: The organization recommends that schools publish a "volunteer resource book" for staff members that lists the interests and availability of volunteers.
"How To" Book for Volunteers
Another publishing project for schools is a guidebook for new volunteers. It should include school contact information, how to sign up, types of volunteer activities available, rules that apply to volunteers, and the materials and equipment available to volunteers. Don't forget to mention how parents can go about proposing new volunteer efforts.
Learn about an idea from the DeKalb County (Georgia) schools in Parent Involvement in the Educational Process. A contract signed by parent, student, and teacher establishes a parental commitment to talk about school daily, attend conferences, limit television viewing, and encourage food study habits. Teachers agree to provide motivating activities, assign homework, and keep parents informed.
The National Parent Information Network recommends that schools hold a toddler fair offering "entertainment, education, and fun" for parents and preschool children. This early start gets parents and schools off on the right foot from the very beginning!
School Web Site
More and more schools find that their Web sites are an increasingly popular avenue for keeping parents informed, and parents can be an untapped resource in creating and maintaining a school site. A strong complement to the Web site is an email newsletter for parents that highlights current and upcoming school events.
National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education
This organization provides resources designed to promote parent/school cooperation.
North Central Regional Education Laboratory: Family and Community
NCREL has published several resources on the topic of parent involvement.