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Visitation Day:
Parents "Walk in the Shoes" of Students

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Tight-lipped kids often keep their parents in the dark about school activities. How can schools bring them out of the cold? Invite them in! Principals say that "Parent Visitation Days" enable parents to get in touch with what school life is really like for their children, and best of all, these events are easy for administrators to organize. Included: Simple tips to help you set up an effective visitation day.

"Parents have come by the office and said that Parent Visitation Day has been the most meaningful experience for them," Patricia Crowder explained. "This is because they have been able to visit their child's classes, see the activities, and can now understand what their child is talking about when he or she discusses the day's classes."

During this special occasion in the school calendar, Crowder, principal at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, California, encourages parents to immerse themselves in activities. The program, which has been in effect for three years, allows parents to observe student classes and get a firsthand look at the quality of instruction provided by the school.


Organize a Productive Parent Day
For a positive visitation day experience, Carol Stehm suggests the following:

Offer the day early in the year so parents have a clear understanding of what is expected of their children.

Prepare teachers for the day to help ease their minds.

Encourage teachers to get parents involved in the lessons to make the experience as authentic as possible.

Plan for the extra parking required, additional seating in classrooms, and greater number of lunches to be sold.

"Parents arrive at 8:00 a.m., and they meet with me for half an hour in the library," Crowder told Education World. "Here I discuss how the school year is going and what our goals are this year, and then I give directions for the visitations for the next two and one-half hours."

EASY, POSITIVE EVENT

One of the great advantages of the Parent Visitation Day is that it isn't difficult to organize, says Crowder. She notifies teachers of the date early in the school year and asks them to place chairs by the back doors of their classrooms so that parents can take a seat as they observe.

"It takes a lot of advertising to inform our parents, but we have had from a few dozen to about 100 at different times," recalled Crowder. "This year we are trying an automated dialer as a way to inform parents a few days before the day in addition to a front page notice in our newsletter."

For the convenience of parents, Crowder also schedules meetings and presentations related to the school's second language program on visitation days. Refreshments are served, and the parents enjoy time to socialize. Crowder welcomes parents to attend in pairs with their friends who have children in the school so that they won't feel awkward as they sit in on classes. Some parents come every year.

"Parent Visitation Day is a good time for parents to see our counselors with any questions they have," Crowder stated. "I usually just provide the opening and maps, and a secretary in the library prints out any schedules that are needed for parents. I introduce our vice principals and head counselor. It really turns out to be a nice event, and I hardly spend much time on it."

BEST FOOT FORWARD

"Our goal for Parent Visitation Day is to provide parents with an opportunity to 'walk in their children's shoes' for a day," Carol Stehm told Education World. "We want parents to know that our school is a safe place where we care about the well being of all students."

Merton Williams Middle School in Hilton, New York, has held visitation days for parents for more than six years. As principal, Stehm invites parents to visit on a day early in the school year. They arrive in the morning and "shadow" their children all day long -- for eight class periods and lunch. The adults attend classes, participate in activities and lessons, go to lockers, and eat a school lunch. They share in the challenges of navigating the building during passing time, chat with other parents, attend workshops, and meet their children's friends.

"This year we had over 150 parents attend," reported Stehm. "They always tell us that they thoroughly enjoy their day and are impressed with our teachers and the programs we offer. Often they are surprised at the pace of the day and how much is required of the students and teachers throughout it."

Parents also enjoy participating in the activities and watching how their children interact in the classroom and with friends. Some teachers send home information ahead of time so parents can answer questions and participate in lessons. One year a French teacher sent home French vocabulary words for a quiz on parent visitation day, and many parents commented about how nervous it made them!

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