When Parents Help Schools
What can you do to help our children succeed? Get involved—at school and at home—and stay involved. Here’s how you can make a real difference in the lives of your children and the children in your community
(Keyword Exclusive - School-Based Council Duties)
Julie Thompson had a problem. When her oldest child started elementary school she soon realized there were some things that needed changing.
“Basically I had two choices: I could get involved and try to change things or send my children to another school. I joined the Parent Teacher Organization that year and I’ve been volunteering ever since.”
Change happens slowly and many volunteers get discouraged and quit after a few years, but not Julie.
“Looking back the biggest mistake I made when I began volunteering was thinking that I was going to totally change everything that I didn’t like. The way to make a difference is to start small and change one little thing, then another, and then another. Complaining about something won’t change anything, but getting involved just might.”
Julie is right, more parents do need to be involved. But that presents a challenge for many schools. Over the last 25 years, membership in the PTA programs nationwide has dropped by 50 percent, while school enrollment has nearly doubled. Why have parents become school dropouts? One answer might be because in the 1970s most high school students came from a two-parent family with one income. The typical high school student today comes from either a single-parent family or a dual-income family, which makes it harder for parents to be active in their child’s educational process.
Harder, but not impossible, and when parents and communities work together, good things happen.
EducationWorld.com, an online resource of education information for teachers, parents, and administrators, says recent research published by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory shows that students with involved parents, no matter their income or background, are more likely to:
- Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
- Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
- Attend school regularly
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
- Graduate and go on to post-secondary education
Today’s schools need organizations like PTA and PTO more than ever. Budget cuts have administrators scrambling to find funding just to cover basic needs like computers, playground equipment, and photocopiers, and parent organizations are often the first to offer help.
Julie Thompson knows firsthand that financial needs are often met by parent volunteers. “The first year I was a PTO member we did a fund-raiser and held an after-school dance that made a little over $900, which is not pocket change for a small rural county like ours. I remember coming home and counting the money twice just to make sure I had counted correctly. When you make a positive contribution for the children, whether it’s time or money, it feels great,” says Julie.
Teresa Cornette sees volunteerism as crucial. Not only is she a parent and Boyd County school board member, she also instituted a program in her county that supplies parents with helpful information. Her seminars keep parents up to date on school test scores, pertinent issues, and explain educational issues they might not understand.
“If parents knew as much about education as they do about baseball, no child would ever fail,” says Cornette.
Like Julie Thompson, Cornette had a strong desire to change things in her district.
“Our superintendent had given notice of his retirement so the processes of hiring a new superintendent had began and I wanted to be sure that the next superintendent was one that was goal-oriented and had a true vision for our children.”
In order to be a better advocate and more effective school board member, Cornette enrolled in CIPL, or the Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership. The Prichard Committee, a not-for-profit advocacy group that looks for ways to improve education in Kentucky, sponsors the institute. There is no cost for parents to receive training.
“I learned more in six sessions of the Commonwealth Institute than in the (three) years I was on the board,” Cornette says.
Bev Raimondo is the director of CIPL and on the staff of The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Raimondo developed the program for parents in 1996 and wrote the curriculum.
“Just as all students are not at the same level, neither are parents. Some are more skilled, and some are more ready to be leaders. We train parent leaders to go back into their schools and really make a positive difference,” says Raimondo.
And CIPL graduates are making a difference all over the state of Kentucky. Teresa Cornette is a perfect example of how the institute works. CIPL empowered Cornette, then Cornette returned to her community and empowered parents. The result is that parents in Boyd County now have a better understanding of what is going on at their children’s schools; because of this not only are they more involved, they are more effective volunteers.
Other Ways to Volunteer
One important role parents play in Kentucky schools involves leadership positions on school-based councils. The Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990 created these councils at all schools and gave them important decision-making responsibilities.
Parents and teachers are council members, along with the school’s principal. Parents are elected each year by other parents and teachers choose other teachers to serve. Councils receive training and make important decisions about everything from test scores analysis to targets for closing achievement gaps.
Because volunteering slacks off as a child enters middle school and high school, schools may have to come up with creative ways to keep parents involved. A popular idea with some middle schools is to host student-led conferences. To prepare for these conferences students and teachers fill out forms in advance. On one form students are asked to rate the subjects they like best and least and to explain why.
Another form challenges students to rate themselves on a variety of skills and habits, including how often they complete their work on time, and how well they get along with their classmates. The last form asks the students to set goals for themselves. Then the night of the conference students present the information to their parents and teachers.
Teachers and administrators agree that these conferences have not only brought parents back into the schools, they’ve helped build a working relationship between all the involved parties.
If a child doesn’t have someone who can come to a conference, one alternative might be mentoring. “At the high school where I was assistant principal, we had kids who were in real danger of not graduating and many times it was because they had no one at home who cared if they succeeded or not. The school’s Vision Committee put together a mentoring program and took it to our school board. The board backed it and now kids in academic trouble have an adult there who cares and who checks on them,” says Kelly Bell, who is now principal of North Metcalfe Elementary School.
“To be a good student a child needs an involved parent,” says Wanda Gregory, a former elementary school teacher for 29 years. “Educators are only half the educational process, the parent is the other half. If they aren’t involved then half of the process is missing.”
And you don’t have to be a principal, a teacher, or even a parent to be involved. Community members, retired teachers, and grandparents can all help.
Gregory, a grandmother, became a volunteer after retirement at the same school where she taught. “When I was teaching I had two volunteers in my classroom and I saw how much the children benefited from having them there. They relieved me of some of the paperwork, which allowed me more teaching time.”
Get Involved—Stay Involved
Once you find your niche and you become an involved parent, don’t stop. Parent-teacher conferences at elementary schools are always packed, but middle school and high school conferences are often only attended by a handful of parents. Brenda Riley of Metcalfe County is one of those parents who got involved and stayed involved. She was a parent volunteer from the moment her first son began school until her last child graduated this past May.
“Teenagers may say they don’t want you around, but they need you. When my youngest son came home and told me that the senior class wanted to go to New York for their senior trip, I knew it would be difficult to get them there, but it seemed like a good idea,” says Riley.
So a group of parents went to work. “We live in a small town in a rural area and we wanted our children to see a slice of the world they’d never seen, especially some of the history of their nation, so we planned a trip to New York even though we had no money, just a dream of getting our seniors there,” Riley says.
This spring that dream came true. In a town of less than 2,000 people about 45 parents managed to raise almost $20,000.
“We flew to New York and stayed four days and three nights. It was a trip they will never forget and it could happen every year if parents wanted it to. Parental involvement got those kids to New York,” says Brenda.
The Bottom Line
Bev Raimondo, the director for Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, has some advice for parents. “It’s a good idea to introduce yourself to the teachers and make sure they know that you are concerned, that makes a big difference. And if you have questions about school issues or academics, go to the principal or the teacher immediately, don’t wait until the child falls behind.”
“The old saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is definitely true when it comes to education,” says Principal Kelly Bell. “We need parents to work with us in order to assure that their children receive the best possible education we can give them. Parents can help in so many different ways: getting their child to bed on time, reading to them, helping with homework, visiting the classroom, and getting to know their child’s teacher are all simple things that can contribute to a child’s success. Parent involvement and community involvement can boost morale, encourage students and teachers, and turn a good school into a great school.”
BE A HOMEWORK CHEERLEADER
Explain the importance of homework and studying and then maintain a positive and patient attitude.
Show that studying is an important value within the family. Read a book or study alongside your child.
Suggest ways of studying. Some children are visual learners. Use charts and graphs to help them see certain concepts.
Help them when they’re having trouble by asking them how a particular concept was taught in class. Encourage your child to write down all assignments in a journal or notebook.
Help them improve their learning strategies (listening, studying, reviewing, organizing) rather than dwelling on failure.
Remember, you are to help, not do the homework for your child. Guide, supervise, and motivate. And don’t forget that your child has had a long day too.
AS A PARENT, I PROMISE...
- To read to my child because children learn from good stories to be compassionate; to treat others as persons, not objects; to have courage; to have hope; to take action; and to take responsibility.
- To promote my child’s self-esteem by providing opportunities to build competence and confidence; by giving my child specific praise for my child’s work and displaying it for others to see; by letting my child share in family responsibilities and decisions.
- To encourage my child’s curiosity and natural interest in science and math because all children need to learn both and all children can; to engage with my child in activities to observe and discover so my child can see that science and math are part of our everyday lives.
- To pay attention to TV when my child is watching; to introduce my child to programs likeReadingRainbow,Ghostwriter, and Mister Rogers; and to watch TV together so we can talk about what we see.
- To turn off the television more because both child and adult programs include enormous amounts of glamorized violence.
- To be involved in my child’s education throughout the school years by showing in every way that I think education is important; by talking with my child’s teachers; by volunteering my time and talent to the school.
- To enjoy my child as we grow and learn together.
5 TIPS FOR VOLUNTEERS
1. Commit for the long haul. Your children need you (even if they say they don’t) to remain involved in their educational process throughout the middle school and high school years.
2. Get to know as many people as you possibly can at the school where your child attends. Start with the principals and teachers and if possible meet librarians, teacher’s aides, and secretaries. These people are working hard for your child. Let them know you appreciate it.
3. Join PTO or PTA meetings and attend the meetings. Be an involved member, one who knows what’s going on in the school.
4. If your school doesn’t have parent conferences, set up a time to meet with your child’s teacher periodically. Ask what they are doing in the classroom and how you can help.
5. Consider attending Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership training. It will open doors to volunteerism that you never knew existed.
SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT HELPFUL RESOURCES
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence—www.prichardcommittee.org
An education advocacy organization based in Lexington. They work to improve education for all Kentuckians. Contact them at (800) 928-2111.
Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership—www.cipl.org
CIPL brings together parents and others, giving them training, information, and experiences to enable them to work with teachers and other parents to raise student achievement in their home communities. Contact them at (800) 928-9211.
This non-profit, national campaign advocates improvement in public schools by increasing parental involvement in U.S. schools.
This site provides a number of documents offering ideas for teachers and schools who want to encourage and promote parental involvement in education.
National Network of Partnership Schools—www.csos.jhu.edu/p2000/default.htm
Established by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, this organization helps schools, districts, and states develop and maintain programs that promote school-family-community partnerships.
National Education Association—www.nea.org
NEA offers suggestions for ways in which both parents and teachers can contribute to effective partnerships. Search for “A Pocket Guide to Building Partnerships For Student Learning.”
SCHOOL-BASED COUNCIL DUTIES
For an exclusive list of duties for Kentucky school-based council members, just click www.kentuckyliving.com/councilduties.htm