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Room Mothers and a Whole Lot More

Involving Parents as Partners in Education

Teachers In Greensville County, Virginia, converted a mobile home into a parent resource center so they could meet with parents at their homes--or workplaces, or even store parking lots--to help them help their children learn. At Anderson Elementary in Reno, Nevada, a former gang member advised parents on keeping their kids out of gangs. When new computers arrived at Heather Hill School in Flossmoor, Illinois, a call went out to parents to serve as trouble-shooters and consultants. At schools across the country, parents are invited to classrooms to share insights and information about their careers.

In ways large and small, administrators everywhere are seeking to expand and improve parental involvement in children's education.

"We know from three decades of research that children with involved parents do better in school and are more successful in life," says National PTA President Joan Dykstra.

In the new Handbook on Parent/Family Involvement Standards (available online, see below), the National PTA highlights six standards it believes are essential for any school or program involving parents and families:

  • Regular, two-way, meaningful communication between home and school

  • Promotion and support of parenting skills

  • Active parent participation in student learning

  • Parents as welcome volunteer partners in schools

  • Parents as full partners in school decisions that affect children and families

  • Outreach to the community for resources to strengthen schools

Successful implementation of these ideas, however, requires an essential ingredient: parents. Parents, as one educator points out, who may lack confidence in their abilities, who may have child care problems, who may have transportation problems, and, perhaps most common of all, who may feel too busy to be involved. According to a Newsweek-PTA poll, 40 percent of parents across the country believe they are not devoting enough time to their children's education. That's not necessarily bad news. The fact that they believe they're not doing enough indicates they believe they should, and likely desire to, do more.

Eleanor Macfarlane, associate director of the Family Literacy Center at Indiana University, offers advice on engaging these parents in "Reaching Reluctant Parents" (Education Digest, Vol. 61, No. 7). To meet child care and transportation needs, for example, Title I funds can be used. To draw in parents who feel too busy, help refocus their priorities by "selling" the importance of family involvement.

The first step in promoting the importance of parental involvement is to establish positive and meaningful communication between school and home, experts agree.

According to a report by the Center on Families, Communities, Schools and Children's Learning at Johns Hopkins University, parents who received information from teachers about classroom activities, their children's progress, and how to stimulate learning were more likely to talk with personnel at their children's school, monitor their children's schoolwork and help their children learn.

Another strategy to encourage involvement: public relations. Don't be afraid to boast about -- and toast -- the achievements of successful partnerships. Publicize existing partnerships in school and district newsletters and in local newspapers. Celebrate successes with a recognition program. The National Education Association also suggests creating a speakers bureau with teachers and parents who are prepared to give interviews, field questions on call-in shows and make presentations to community groups on partnership activities.

As author and educator Anne Henderson says, summarizing an increasingly popular view, "The single most important determinant of a child's success in school, and ultimately throughout life, is not family status, education level, income, or IQ. It is whether that child's parents are involved in his or her education."

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Article by Colleen Newquist
Education World®
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