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Student-Led Conferences
Open Parent-Child Dialogue


"This is a positive, valuable experience in which parents have the chance to listen to student successes and interact with them in an academic setting," reports student achievement specialist Tina Caniford. "The level of student sincerity is impressive. Students take great care to plan what goes into their portfolios."

Started five years ago and conceived as an activity for merit students, student-led conferences have become an institution shared by the entire student body at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown, Maryland. Every student has the opportunity to present his or her academic work at a conference. The students select and compile exemplary assignments from each subject and practice a short script that improves their communication and presentation skills before the big day. In a 20-minute meeting, each student shows off his or her portfolio of work displayed in binder.

Seventh grade math teacher Mark Lysiak views the portfolio of Juliet during a student-led conference. (photo courtesy of Mark Lysiak)
"Generally, parents come in for the conference, but we also have grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Even neighbors have made this a valuable experience for our students," Caniford told Education World. "If a child doesn't have anyone to conference with, we always match a staff member with that child."

At the end of each conference, the guest fills out a "conference evaluation" form. One recent evaluation stated, "This is the first time I've ever sat down with my child to review schoolwork. This is better than a report card!" This comment alone made Caniford's effort worthwhile, she shared.

It takes several months to order, prepare, and organize student binders; several individuals are involved in the process. At one time the event included refreshment, but the budget no longer allows for that. There are plans to scale back to paper folders rather than binders for students if funds tighten again in the future.

This year was especially meaningful for Caniford because she was able to recruit her 72-year-old mother and her friends from a local assisted living home to help with the project. They put forms into sleeves for the binders and completed what for her is a very time-consuming task.

"One of the maintenance men stopped me in the parking lot to tell me what a great opportunity I've provided for these people to be involved in the community," Caniford added. "He said that they lined up the sleeves and papers, and then they just talked up a storm! He said he had never seen them smile so much, and they truly felt needed."

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