29 AUGUST 2001

We need to increase meaningful parent involvement. This is a common concern among parents, teachers and administrators when discussing how to improve education today. What can we learn for child and youth care from this?

Parents play a critical role

Research by Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla shows that when parents are involved, students achieve more, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or the parents' educational level. The educators also found that student behaviors such as alcohol use, violence and anti-social behavior decrease as parent involvement increases.

Increased meaningful parent involvement is a critical component of improving student success in any school. Developing strategies and creating an environment that will promote the types of parental partnerships needed require understanding and cooperation of all of us.

The phrase "parent involvement" is a term that includes more than parents. A child may rely on parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents or other caring adults who provide the nurturing and care that the term "parent" implies. And meaningful parent involvement defines the quality of interactions between the family, school and community.

Many parents think they are not qualified to be fully effective in their child's education, but any adult who lives in the same home as a child is involved with that child on some level. Our goal, as PTA members, is to make that involvement as powerful and effective as possible, using the national standards for parent/family involvement. These standards are based on the work of Joyce Epstein at Johns Hopkins University. They are:

When school communities encourage the use of all six components of this comprehensive plan, students benefit. But knowing the six standards is one thing, and applying them is another. Here are a few ideas about how to put them to use.

Communication is the first step in developing a partnership between the teacher and family. Parents have an obligation to speak with their child's teacher, especially if something is happening at home that may cause the child to behave differently in school. Parents need to contact the teacher immediately if they have concerns - and they should say "good job" and "thanks" on occasion.

Educators also should develop ways to share the activities in the classroom with parents and be quick to share concerns or praise for the student.

How do parents and teachers initiate these conversations? Written notes work well if a parent finds it intimidating to talk to the teacher. Taking advantage of an open house or other get-to-know-you school event will also help increase the comfort level and make future personal conversations easier.

If there are concerns, remember that parents and teachers are on the same team, and a calm conversation about a simple question in a timely manner makes life easier for everyone involved, especially the child.

Parenting support and skill development can be provided by schools. For example, schools can help families link to community services. Parents can learn from each other and work together on issues, such as curfews. Teachers, parents and children working together can develop good problem-solving skills and conflict-management techniques.

Student learning begins at home. Parents are their child's first teacher and are key in helping their child continue to succeed.

Parents and teachers must think of themselves as partners in the education of the child. Parents can help by making sure their children go to school rested, fed and ready to do their job, which is learning. Teachers can help by talking to parents about the subjects being studied and providing parents with the information they need to assist their child with homework.

Parents and teachers need to communicate about what is required of the student and have a clear idea of how each will assist in achieving that goal. Research indicates that the parents' education level or background is not a predictor of their ability to help their children succeed. Student success comes from an outreach program that helps all families gain the skills they need to support learning.

Volunteering is a standard focusing on parents supporting children as learners. In this role, parents and other adults can enrich the school environment by contributing their knowledge and skills and providing services and support to students and teachers. Parents and other community adults have a variety of talents, hobbies or professional expertise that can be tapped to support learning during the traditional school day.

Advocacy is powerful. Most parents do not realize that they have probably already been an effective advocate for their children. Each time a parent stands up for their child or looks for ways to improve the child's school experience, that parent is acting as an advocate and has an effect - however subtle - on the decision-making process.

It is becoming increasingly important for parents to understand not only what is happening in their school and district, but also what is occurring in the state Legislature.

Key legislative issues include initiatives to keep our children safe; pesticide use in schools; the Wisconsin Academic Standards and the policy of "no social promotion" tests; the high school graduation test requirement; and the impact of revenue limits on a school's ability to provide quality educational services.

Collaboration with the community is also essential. In today's economic times, many think of collaboration between school and community as businesses contributing free door prize coupons or big ticket items to support the work of the school.

But our communities have so much more to offer. Local businesses can display student work for the public to view. Employers could offer their employees time to participate in school activities, such as teacher conferences or field trips. Students and community members can be teamed up so that adults connect with these young people and help them through tutoring, mentoring or by supporting an enrichment program.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future." Building successful partnerships between the home, school and the community is the way to build young people so they are ready to be productive, happy citizens.


Winnie Doxsie volunteers her time as the immediate past-president of Wisconsin PTA and as a trained National PTA Building Successful Partnerships (BSP) presenter.





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