On National Parental Involvement Day 2010, Kevin Walker, founder of Project Appleseed, advises schools not to lament the lack of parental involvement, but to invite parents to do more. Included: A sample parent volunteer form from Abington (Pennsylvania) Junior High.
"The school is a critically important community institution, since the quality of education shapes not only our children's individual future, but also the future of our economy, community, and society," says Kevin Walker. "Support of public schools is important; involvement and action by several parents in a group can influence school policy-makers and result in decisions and choices than can benefit many children."
Walker serves as the president and national director of Project Appleseed, the organization he founded as a nonprofit resource and advocate for families engaged in education. National Parental Involvement Day, held on the third Thursday of each November, was started by Project Appleseed in 1994. Walker suggests that one of the most important activities schools can employ in observance of the special day this year is to celebrate reading as a fun, school- and community-wide activity.
"Recruit parents, families, churches, and local businesses to participate in a special reading program for students and families," he advises. "Hold storytelling nights, guest author and poetry readings, read-aloud programs, dramatic readings, book fairs and book drives, a read-a-thon or a book report festival, family literacy nights, or other literacy activities for the whole community."
One of Project Appleseed's primary tools is the Parental Involvement Pledge, which asks parents to take responsibility for the education of their children through a commitment to help with homework and volunteer at school for at least five hours per semester. Some schools use the occasion of National Parental Involvement Day to introduce the pledge to parents and to rally volunteers.
"The pledge is especially effective because it systemically measures and targets parental involvement, while building valuable social capital," Walker explains. "The pledge entices parents to come to school for volunteering, parenting, academics, communication, safety, decision making, performances and more. It can create billions of hours of volunteer service in America's public schools."
Walker reports that there are more than 55 million public school parents in America, and he firmly believes that real education reform cannot take place without an effective parent constituency. If Americans do not make systematic efforts to address how to get parents back into the schools, he warns, they will likely face an uphill battle with some very unpleasant long-term consequences for the country.
"Many schools simply fail to ask parents to become partners in the education of students," Walker told Education World. "Schools fail to set expectations for meaningful and measurable parental involvement. They treat parental involvement as an afterthought. Principals and teachers should ask parents on the first day of school to commit to a minimum number of volunteer hours inside and outside school."
"Traditionally, across the country, there is a significant drop from the number of parent volunteers at the elementary level to the number of parent volunteers at the junior-high/middle-school level," Nicole Cicci Kazarian observes. "Parents are somewhat reluctant to volunteer at the junior-high level, but not at Abington Junior High School. Since the introduction of Project Appleseed, the commitment of families at the junior-high level has been remarkable."
Prior to Project Appleseed, parental involvement at Abington Junior High School in Pennsylvania was typical for a large, suburban junior-high school and was limited to active PTO members. Parents wanted to volunteer, but the role of parent involvement was not defined. Project Appleseed brought greater clarity to volunteer activities and became a vehicle for organizing volunteer opportunities. Today, team members at the school aren't shy about asking parents to be a force in their children's education.
Since the 2008-2009 school year, Project Appleseed's resources have been utilized to encourage parents to get involved. Faculty members have reviewed the resources and revised the templates to fit the needs of the school. Each summer, parents receive a mailing that contains the Project Appleseed Parental Involvement Report Card, Parental Involvement Pledge, and Mission Statement, which includes accomplishments of the previous school year.
"Parents are asked to fill out the pledge and return the form to me," explains Kazarian, a Spanish teacher and project leader. "I then enter all the information into our database. The PTO and members of the faculty supply me with requests for parent volunteers. They provide me with details of the activities that require parent volunteers -- type of activity, time, date, and so on. I then send the volunteer request to the parent volunteers via email. If a parent is interested in volunteering, he or she contacts me or the adult running the activity."
Abington Junior High School started out with 77 parent volunteers in its database; the number grew to 187 the next year. The school currently has approximately 250 volunteers, about 15 percent of the parent population. The large database enables Kazarian to fulfill nearly all requests for parent helpers.
"Parents are more than willing to donate their time to help out with school activities," Kazarian reports. "When a parent volunteer request is sent out, the responses are numerous. We sometimes have to kindly decline the volunteer services of some parents due to overwhelming interest."
Through the school's pledge, parents can express interest in 31 types of activities. Volunteers often work in the school store, tutor in the learning center, help during activities associated with the school-wide positive behavior supports program, organize fundraisers, decorate hallways, and assist in classrooms. There are opportunities to assist during school, after school, in the evening, and on weekends. The variety of times meets the needs of parents who have less flexible schedules. Several parents volunteer as much as 65 hours per school year.
"I think its important to step back and take a look at the school environment," suggests Kazarian. "Tailor the Project Appleseed Parental Involvement Pledge to suit the specific needs of the school. Our school has revised its pledge annually. It is also important to include administrators, teachers, and parents in the discussion, for all parties can bring insight to the table."