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The Push to Bridge Socioeconomic Gaps and Get More Parents Involved in Schools

Regardless of where they fall on the socioeconomic ladder, all parents want their children to succeed in their education. How much parents are involved in their child’s school and how that involvement trickles down to the student’s success can vary widely based on income status, multiple reports show.

Second only to overtesting, lack of parent involvement was the number two challenge cited by teachers across the country in a poll conducted by The Washington Post. And with 1-in-5 school children in the U.S. living in poverty, getting the parents of children who attend schools in low-income areas can be a challenge for educators. Participation by parents in schools can vary widely by income, with parents in higher income brackets attending nearly double the number of parent/teacher meetings or school activities compared with parents living below the poverty line, according to a 2017 National Household Education survey.

The reason for this can be attributed to a number of factors, such as job flexibility. While many middle- and upper-income parents working in white-collar jobs often have greater schedule flexibility, the opposite is often the case for lower-income parents. For parents working in hourly-wage jobs, sometimes juggling two or three, pay must often be sacrificed for school meetings. And if they’re not scheduled weeks in advance, such meetings and school events can be impossible for lower-income parents to attend.

Language barriers can mark another obstacle for parents who have adopted English as a second language. Albuquerque, New Mexico parent, Mary Muñoz whose first language is Spanish found it often difficult to get a meeting with her son’s principal, and felt the school often took a “what’s wrong now?” approach to having parents there.

Muñoz is now part of the Family Independence Initiative, a program that recruits lower-income families into groups where they work together to support each other in areas such as their children’s education.

For educators in Washington D.C., where the public school system has a long reputation of being a point of conflict and distrust between lower-income parents and teachers, repairing relationships has required a radical shift on the school's’ part.

City schools like Beers Elementary School have begun to change the way they get parents involved from the standard parent/teacher conference to discuss report card grades, to involving parents in their child’s curriculum from day one.

Teachers visit students at their home before they start the school year to build a rapport with parents and several times a year host group meetings to discuss what the students are studying. There are also fun activities to make the parents part of their child’s school community, like fish fries and sending parents home with bags of math and reading games to play with their kids at home.

Deputy chief of family engagement in the Washington public schools, Vincent Baxter, said that the city’s public schools have often had a contentious relationship with parents, many of whom are from a lower socioeconomic status. Baxter pointed out that the new program is about bridging that gap and starting anew. “It is our role to take three steps forward to start a relationship,” he added.

With the ultimate goal being to make the parent a partner in the child’s learning, the program seems to be working so far. More parents are getting involved with their children’s schools and no longer have to wonder what their kid is learning in school, because they’re on the same page as the teachers.

“It teaches you exactly what you need to know to help your child,” Dorothy Jackson, a grandmother to a 6-year-old at Beers Elementary told The Boston Globe. “It’s hands-on, and includes the parents a lot more.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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