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Put "Punch" Into Your Parent Handbook

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Is it time to take a fresh look at your schools parent handbook? How can your school get more out of this essential resource for parents? Education World takes a look at ten handbooks from across the grades and shares what each one does especially well. Included: Twenty-five things you might include in your handbook's table of contents.

A school's "parent handbook" is one of the first and most important resources that new parents and students receive. When questions arise, this is the guide to which parents turn, so a good parent handbook cuts down on time-consuming calls to the school office. As you update your handbook with new personnel, new schedules, and dates for a new school year, examine it through the eyes of an incoming student and family. What is it saying about your school, and is it saying enough?

Most handbooks include elements such as an introduction to the school, a directory of staff members, information about educational programs, attendance information, and a calendar of events. However, some schools make the most of their parent handbooks with additional components or more detailed materials. The following ten handbooks from schools across the country and from all grade levels are full of information that will help beginning students and their parents. How can the strengths of these handbooks in content and format be applied to yours?

GREAT BEGINNINGS: ELEMENTARY HANDBOOKS

The Emerson Elementary School parent handbook outlines not only typical topics like grading and attendance but also information about before and after school programs available to students at the school and what they cost. In addition, parents can quickly learn what happens to articles lost by students at the Miami, Florida, school and how they can reclaim them, and the handbook offers some simple advice about how to promote good home learning habits.

Handy Guide to the Parent Handbook

A survey of parent handbooks shows that they often contain the following features:
Welcome
School Mission Statement
School Contact Information
School Rules
Dress Code
Arrival and Dismissal Schedule
Late Arrival and Early Departure Instructions
Pupil Attendance and Absences
Delay and Early Dismissal Procedures
Breakfast and Lunch Programs
Health Room Information
Medication Procedures
Guidance Program
Homework Policies
School Bus Rules and Policies
Instructions for Visitors
Discipline Procedures
Parent Teacher Organization
Staff Directory
School Calendar

They sometimes also contain sections about:
School Emblems: Colors, Mascot, and Song
Testing Programs
Conferences
Field Trips
Classroom Parties
Care of School Materials
Student Use of Telephone

Out of concern for its many students who have severe nut allergies, TLC Academy in Sammamish, Washington, has established specific guidelines about classroom snacks and peanut products eaten during lunch and published them in its parent handbook. Readers find detailed rules of behavior for the playground as well, something that is especially essential at the elementary level.

In its handbook, Bristow Run Elementary walks parents through the difficult process of moving a child from one classroom to another. The school places children with care, so parent requests for class relocation are handled through a set procedure that involves meetings and mediation. Located in Bristow, Virginia, this elementary school publishes its school pledge, strategic plan goals, and the responsibilities of its students in its parent handbook, too.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS MAKE HANDBOOKS COUNT

Schools are workplaces that require sexual harassment policies for their employees, but equally important today are similar policies that protect students' rights. The parent handbook [archived copy] of Gordon C. Swift Middle School defines sexual harassment and shares with parents and students the actions they should take if an event of this nature occurs. In fact, this school uses its parent handbook to convey its expectations for student conduct in many areas: on the bus, in corridors, bringing electronic equipment to school, chewing gum, using passes, and social activities and field trips. "Think of the cafeteria as a restaurant," students in this Oakville, Connecticut, school are advised, "and act accordingly."

Helena (Montana) Middle School's parent handbook identifies the behavior it expects during school assemblies in part through "Bobcat Behaviors." They are "be your best," "offer support," "be responsible," "cooperate," "always follow directions," "treat others with respect," and "smile." Students at this middle school may take advantage of two nutritional breaks per day, and the handbook lays out acceptable and unacceptable snacks for those periods.

JUMPING INTO JUNIOR AND HIGH SCHOOLS

Many schools have rules regarding Internet use, policies that must be signed by students, and permission agreements that are authorized by parents, but the Laramie County School District has an implied consent notice for Internet use at the junior high level. Unless parents submit a form that denies students use of the Internet, students are allowed to use it within the framework described in the handbook. The simple design of Web pages, and not downloadable files, makes this book fast to access. Its clickable index, with subheadings for clarity, is another strong feature of this guide from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Have you recently taken a fresh look at your school's student handbook? What kinds of revisions or additions did you make to it this time around? If another principal is about to take a look at their handbook, what suggestions might you have for improving it?

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Another winning approach to design is evident in the Osseo (Minnesota) Junior High School parent handbook. The focus of this handbook is ease of use in printed form, so the document forms a calendar and handbook when it is assembled. The code of conduct found in it is positive, concise, and student-friendly, and it is supported by a detailed behavior plan. The names and addresses of area schools and parks are also conveniently included in the handbook.

No high school handbook would be complete without a summary of the daily schedule, and a perfect example is contained in the parent handbook of Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, California. The changing daily schedule of class periods is explained in a basic table. This handbook shares not just the requirements for graduation from high school but admission requirements for some California schools so that students can prepare for college admission from the start of their high school careers.

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