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Parent and community-involvement strategies that work


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The research is clear: When parents and communities are involved in schools, education improves. From New York to California, from an individual student's notebook to community-outreach programs, here are five approaches to parental and community involvement that work! Included: Five successful programs for parent and community involvement plus links to dozens of online resources!

"Research shows the benefits of parent involvement in kids' education," principal Jerry Eichholz told Education World. "I believe it's very important to help parents understand what it is they can do to help the student succeed. I try to show parents how to be actively involved."

Eichholz is the principal of Highland Elementary School in the Riverview Gardens School District of St. Louis County, Missouri. Highland, which serves kindergarten through sixth grade with two classes at each grade level, is a "choice" public school that draws its student body from across the district. Parents who want their children to attend Highland submit their names, and students are then chosen by lottery to fill available vacancies.

Parent involvement is one of the requirements for families who enroll their children at Highland.

"There are a couple of areas we're trying to have parents involved in," Eichholz continued.

The first area is the student's individual education. That kind of involvement, Eichholz explained, includes attending the curriculum nights, held at the beginning of the school year to introduce parents to the practices and expectations of their child's classroom teachers, and attending parent-teacher conferences.

To facilitate parents' involvement in their children's daily school activities, the Highland PTA provides students with daily planners. "The planner provides space for comments by teachers and parents," Eichholz said. "We expect parents to initial the planner every night."

Connecting to the Internet and paintbrushes too!

The second area of involvement expected of parents of Highland students is in school-wide projects. "We expect parents to participate in the PTA's fund-raisers and other activities," Eichholz explained. The PTA's funds provide the student planners as well as cultural enrichment and other supplementary programs for the school.

In recent years, Highland parents have lived up to the school's expectations of them in this second area. "A couple of years ago we weren't wired for the Internet," Eichholz told Education World. For Net Day, a national initiative to wire the nation's schools, parents planned and carried out the work necessary to connect all of Highland's classrooms to the Internet. "About 150 people came one Saturday, and the entire building was wired," Eichholz said.

Highland parents took on a similar project for the opening of school this year. The district had expanded the 40-year-old building with funds from a bond issue. "What wasn't included in the bond issue funds," Eichholz explained, "was money for painting the older area of the building."

In the month before school started, parents and teachers volunteered to paint the classrooms. "Now we don't have 'old' and 'new' sections. The school all looks nice and uniform," Eichholz said.

"We have a number of parents who work two or three jobs and who can't be here in the building [during school hours]," Eichholz said. "We needed to provide the opportunity so they could be actively involved."

Parent-school reciprocal journals

Anne S. Robertson, who coordinates the National Parent Information Network (NPIN), described for Education World her experience as a parent with a reciprocal journal designed to involve parents in what their children are studying at school. Robertson, who holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in international educational development, has worked as a parent volunteer, teacher, family literacy home visitor, parent educator, and researcher.

Robertson explained that a child begins the year with a lined notebook. "Each week the teacher or the student staples a copy of that week's 'curriculum wheel' to a page in the notebook," Robertson said. "A curriculum wheel," Robertson explained, "is a circle divided into pie shapes where each piece of the pie describes -- in a few words -- the different subjects being studied that week." During the week, students write or draw a picture about something they found interesting.

Children take their journals home on Friday and ask their parents to respond on the next page or two of the notebook. The students then bring their journals back to school on Monday for the next week's round.

Like Highland School's student planners, reciprocal journals provide the opportunity for involvement to parents who may not be able to visit school during the day. "In our situation," Robertson explained, "my husband, who had a very hectic schedule at that time, could be very involved with the journaling on the weekends while I did other volunteer efforts such as tutoring support in the classroom.

"The journal entries also generated a number of dinnertime discussions at our house," she added, "as we felt more informed about our child's school activities and more engaged in their process.

"By the end of the year, each family had a lovely record of narratives and drawings," Robertson told Education World, "some of which described parents' childhood experiences that related to their child's." For example, when the children discussed the sports they played, "my husband, who is Scottish, could write about the sports they played in Scottish schools -- rugby for all boys, field hockey for all girls."

Robertson described the reciprocal journal as "definitely a 'keeper' for your child's attic school box."

A parent mentoring program

At Crispell Middle School in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York, parents serve as mentors to sixth graders. According to James McIntyre, a teacher at Crispell, the district is in southeastern New York, about 35 miles west of the Hudson River; it covers more than 250 square miles and encompasses communities that range from suburbs of New York City to rural areas.

Sue Moore, the school's guidance counselor, supervises the mentoring program, which matches up each sixth grader with a volunteer from the community. The volunteer mentors agree to meet with their students at least once a week, usually during a student's study hall or other free period.

"The kids may have organizational problems, they don't do their homework -- things like that," Moore told Education World. "We try to identify the neediest kids."

The program is now in its fourth year, and it has grown every year. "We had 15 volunteers last year," Moore said. "I'm hoping for 20 this year."

To illustrate how important a program like this can be in a young person's life, Moore offered Education World this success story from the previous school year.

A girl new to the school was withdrawn and reluctant to talk with either staff or students. She would give only one-word answers to questions, had no friends, and was failing all five of her subjects. The school staff had heard that her grandparents, with whom she had been living, were killed in a fire, but the girl had never told anyone at school about the experience.

This student was matched with a volunteer mentor, to whom she told her story in October. From that point on, the volunteer met with the student every school day until summer vacation. By the end of the year, she was beginning to talk to people and to make some friends. And she passed all of her classes.

A community-involvement program

The Los Angeles Educational Partnership (LAEP) is a nonprofit organization that supports education in the Los Angeles area. Helen Kleinberg, director of LAEP's Family Care program, told Education World that her program is the community-building piece of the partnership. Its goal is to improve the education of children in low-income communities.

"Our job is to teach families how to teach their own children," Kleinberg explained. The program shows parents how to read to their children, how to talk to children to foster vocabulary development, how to use pots and pans in the kitchen to get children to think, and generally "how to create an environment where children can learn," Kleinberg said.

The program aims to reach parents first when their children are still very young so that those children won't be behind when they start kindergarten. The program also keeps in touch with families as their children progress through school, right up until the time students graduate from high school. To maintain contact through school, Kleinberg said, the program connects with each family a minimum of three times: at kindergarten, when children enter school; in sixth grade, when students move to middle school; and at ninth grade, when students enter high school.

There's also an emphasis on preparing students and their families for college and encouraging them to pursue a college education. "All kids should have the opportunity for an education that will allow them to go to college," Kleinberg said.

LAEP gets parents involved in their own children's education, but it also fosters community involvement by training local residents to work with their neighbors to increase educational opportunities and expectations. "We believe in using the community to help do this," Kleinberg told Education World. "It's important to start young and continue the message all the way through graduation from high school."

An innovative tax-related program

Riverview Gardens School District, home of Eichholz's Highland Elementary, offers an unusual tax-related program that fosters community involvement.

"In 1996, our community passed a 99-cent tax increase," David Clohessy, the district's director of community services, told Education World. "By school district standards, that's a pretty hefty increase."

Riverview Gardens has a large population of senior citizens, Clohessy continued. To help those citizens meet this tax increase, the district budgeted $10,000 and started a program called SERVES, which stands for Seniors of Riverview in Education Service.

School officials calculated that the 99-cent tax increase would cost the district's average homeowner an additional $100 a year in taxes. Under SERVES, senior citizens can earn that extra $100 by working for the school district one hour per week for ten weeks at a pay rate of $10 per hour.

"Our first choice is to have the people working under this program involved in direct one-on-one tutoring with our at-risk kids," Clohessy explained. He added, though, that people who prefer to perform other duties such as shelving library books or answering phones are welcome as well.

Over the last couple of years, the program has grown to 120 participants. Most of the citizens continue their service as volunteers for the rest of the school year after the ten-week pay period ends, Clohessy said.

"As society ages and as families become more transient," he explained, "older people have fewer direct connections with the schools." He said that most of the program's participants are pleasantly surprised when they enter the schools and see how eager the students are to learn and how hard teachers work to teach them. There has been virtually no down side to this program," Clohessy told Education World. "It has been a perfect marriage."

Additional online resources about parent and community involvement

Americans Seek to Support -- Not Abandon -- Public Schools
New PEN Poll on Community Involvement in Education Reveals This page on the LAEP Web site announces the results of a poll by the Public Education Network (PEN) taken in October 1999 that found that most Americans view community involvement as a means of improving public schools.

Project Appleseed The National Campaign for Public School
Improvement offers a parental involvement pledge, parental involvement report card, and parental involvement toolbox.

Parent Involvement at the Middle School Level
This article, prepared by ACCESS ERIC, details the benefits of parental involvement in children's education and offers general advice to parents about how to become involved.

The National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education
This organization, headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, offers guidelines for schools and school districts on developing family-school partnerships along with other resources.

Parent and Family Involvement
This page from the Pathways to School Improvement section of the U.S. Department of Education's North Central Regional Educational Laboratory offers the Trip Planner Inventory, a tool to help schools begin the school-improvement process. The site also includes links to several related essays within the Pathways section and to related resources.

Parents Ask About Parent Involvement Policies
This page discusses parent involvement policies, which are a requirement for federal Title I funding. The page is also available in Spanish.

Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Children's Education
This article from the Family Involvement Partnership for Learning, which is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education, explains to parents how to become involved in their children's education.

National PTA
This organization offers many resources related to parent involvement, including National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs, a comprehensive study of the benefits of parental involvement in education with suggestions for parents and teachers.

Parent Engagement as a School Reform Strategy
This article, from the Urban Education Web of the U.S. Department of Education, focuses on parental involvement as a strategy for transforming failing urban schools. The site includes links to ERIC abstracts of several sources quoted in the article.

The Challenges of Parent Involvement Research
This 1998 ERIC Digest describes flaws in earlier studies analyzing parental involvement in education (such as unclear or inconsistent definitions of "parent involvement" and failure to isolate parent involvement from other influences) and lists study design improvements for future research.

Family Education Network
This page, aimed at parents, contains information about parental involvement in education, including related topics such as preparing for parent-teacher conferences.

Public Education Network
This is the home page of the Public Education Network, which calls itself "the nation's largest network of community-based school reform organizations."

How to Inform and Involve Parents
This page from Inspiring Teachers is aimed at beginning teachers. It includes a list of ways to involve parents in the classroom and tips for teachers on how to prepare a newsletter for parents.

Mary Daniels Brown
Education World®
Copyright © 2010, 2015 Education World


Originally published 10/03/2000
Last updated 09/13/2015