Need an easy and inexpensive way to reach parents with important news from your school? Many elementary and middle schools have found a simple answer -- the "weekly folder." Packaging all communication from school into one folder, and sending this folder home with students on the same day each week, teaches families to watch kids' backpacks and cuts down on "missed" notes and news.Included: See how some schools track home/school communication through weekly folders.
Every Wednesday, eager students head home from Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, Alabama, with a week's worth of work for their parents to review. Completed papers, grades, a weekly school newsletter, papers about upcoming events, and notes to parents -- all of this vital school information arrives at the parents' door in a convenient package. It is called the "Wednesday Folder."
"Parents have come to expect the folder each Wednesday and know that all of their children will have folders on the same day," reports Teri Stokes, Weatherly Heights' principal. "They know that all field trip information, picture information, money due information, etc., will arrive on this day, so they won't miss the information. The parents also know that if they don't get a folder on Wednesday, they need to check and find out why."
Weatherly Heights Elementary chose Wednesday as the day for communication with parents because it allows two days for teachers to collect the folders before the weekend. Work in the folder runs from the previous Wednesday to the next Tuesday. Only kindergarten is excluded from the weekly routine because daily folders are sent home in this grade.
Each classroom teacher gives the weekly folders out to the students, and many of the classes have parent volunteers to "stuff" the folders. Volunteers may handle all but confidential materials such as student papers and grades. Parents either sign the folder and keep the papers or sign and return them as directed by the teacher.
"The vast majority of parents sign the folder or papers at all grade levels," said Stokes. "The importance of this is stressed to the students so that they get the parents to look at the work and sign it. The teachers, in turn, make sure that they check the folders the next day for any notes from parents."
Initially, the weekly folders drew abundant positive feedback. Today most parents simply take the folders for granted as a part of school procedure. They have come to rely so much on this predictable form of weekly communication that the one thing parents never fail to notice is when a folder doesn't arrive on Wednesday.
"From an administrator's perspective, the weekly folder keeps the teachers organized -- they know that student work needs to go home on Wednesdays, and that parents call wanting to know why there wasn't any work if it's not sent," Stokes observed. "The teachers like having the consistency and external organizational expectation."
Students at Weatherly Heights are given one folder at the start of the year. The folders cost from $.90 to $1.30, depending on the style selected by the school. If students lose a folder, which happens rarely because of the quick turnaround, they must pay $1 to replace it.
"Because we have the school theme for the year on the cover of the folder, parents are aware of the emphasis we place on our curriculum," Stokes added. "The folder also includes all the school policies concerning just about everything such as lunchroom procedures, dismissal procedures, tardies, absences, and student dress."
In Folsom, California, Wednesday is also the day of the week when students at Carl Sundahl Elementary take their weekly folders home to their families.
"Our weekly folders are kept in individual classrooms, usually in a file box," says principal Marty Baumann. "Teachers can file items in the folders at any time. Items prepared and/or distributed by the office are provided to teachers at the latest on Wednesday morning before the first bell."
Teachers at the school have a variety of ways to fill the folders, including student helpers and parent volunteers. All weekly correspondence, flyers, lunch menus, letters, and other information, are sent home in these folders.
"School backpacks have become the catch-all for everything imaginable," stated Baumann. "After years of parents complaining about not being notified of upcoming events and activities -- even though notices had been sent home -- we settled on sending everything home on the same day each week."
Wednesday works for the school because it is mid-week and gives parents the opportunity to respond to requests immediately; they dont have to wait through the weekend. It also allows the folders to be signed and returned the very next day. Each Wednesday folder includes the classroom calendar for the next week. Parents appreciate the extra time to prepare for what is ahead.
"The parent signatures on the weekly folder become an ongoing record of home/school communication," Baumann explains. "Sure there are times when parents probably just sign the folder without carefully looking at the contents, but at least they have seen the material. It is hard to complain about not knowing about an activity when we have a signature indicating a parent received the folder."
When copy machine problems cause the school to miss a Wednesday deadline, it generates many calls to the office. The school Web site is popular with parents, so every effort is made to upload frequently to it as a backup for information sent home.
"Using weekly folders establishes a routine that promotes consistency and responsibility [with students and faculty]," Baumann believes. "Some classes offer students an incentive for returning folders on Thursday. Others reward students when every folder is returned on time. Many classes do not make it a big deal but simply have the expectation that it must be returned by the end of the week."
"I feel one day of distribution works best, as correspondence every day from school may not get the time it deserves for parent review," said Steven Madancy, principal of Orange Avenue Elementary School. To reach parents during their less-rushed weekend hours, the Milford, Connecticut, school makes Friday its day to send out weekly folders.
"Very often, as parents clean out their children's backpack from the week or have some quiet time during the weekend as opposed to after a hectic work day, they can sit and go through our information and give it the attention it deserves," added Madancy, who told Education World that office staff and volunteers collaborate to prepare the materials. In addition, a nearby elderly care facility brings a resident to the school each Thursday to copy items that will be distributed in all student folders.
Like Carl Sundahl Elementary, Madancy's school also provides folder materials online. "By publishing online, our school saved 17,500 sheets of paper last year because some parents prefer to refer to the school Web page," he reported. "Because our flyers are available online, if one is lost, misplaced, or something spills on it, parents can just pull up the flyer and print another one."
Parents have embraced the online version of the folder's contents. Especially in situations where parents are not living in the same home, it is helpful for all family members to have access to school news, and not just the parent who is responsible for the child on the day that correspondence is sent home.
"I enjoy the process, but I would stress that it does take planning and communication of volunteers and a flexible office staff," Madancy advised. "As with all volunteers, their intentions are always great. However, they have lives of their own and conflicts may arise, so office staff may be stuffing or copying at the last moment."