Research shows that the more parents are involved in their children’s education, the better they will do in school. At the elementary school level, communication between parents and schools is not usually a problem, according to Dale Kelly, principal of IS 364 in Brooklyn. But as children shed the innocence of grade school for middle school, parents seem to reduce their involvement to match the rise in their children’s maturity. In response, The Cahn Fellow thinks parents should reconsider the direction in which they are pointing their attention spans at this crucial moment in the children’s development.
“These are the timesto get closer,” he says, and his school is certainly not immune to this citywide problem. Using the annual school surveys as a benchmark, IS 364 had only a 21% return from parents, which is less than half the city average.
Out of this, Mr. Kelly set out to determine with his staff what was driving the numbers and how it could be changed. Beginning with parents’ education levels, it was found that the less education parents had, the more intimidated they were to engage in a conversation with the school.
On the other hand, parents with more education were less apprehensive about vigilantly advocating on behalf of their children. Unfortunately, he says, it’s the former that we are desperately trying to reach.
Socioeconomic levels and home dynamics have a similar effect on parent’s participation. A lack of money coming in, temporary housing situations and single parent households don’t always lend itself to being there as much as parents would like to be.
In addition, language barriers can also deter parents from getting involved, while cultural considerations may go either way. If the attitudes lean strongly in favor of education, it manifests in the child and the opposite is true when cultures have less inclination toward the educational model, he says.
Also to consider, are the silent grouping of parents who are appropriately satisfied with their children’s progress. Active at home but not necessarily engaged on site, he cautions schools to not overlook this demographic in favor of the raw data.
But implementing change starts by first setting goals to strive for. Our aim is to get 10% of parents to each monthly PTA meeting, he says in hopes that 100% of the parents eventually make it to one of the 10
But on an ongoing daily basis, IS 364 determined that they needed a more user friendly open door policy by being more accessible and welcoming to parents considering an outreach into school. In addition, they realized that the dialogue needed to be more centered on the language parents talk rather than the technical educational rhetoric that school can become accustomed to.
In terms of engendering enough momentum to create an expanded in flow of parents into school sponsored events, the answer is easily connected to interest. Figure out what parents think are the important issues and tailor to that, he says.
The same can mostly be said of accommodating parents across their time constraints. Saturdays, after school and staggering availability, he says is paramount to keeping parents connected.
And finally revisit and reevaluate. “Reinforce what works and go back to the drawing board on what doesn’t,” he says.
As for parents who are looking to up their involvement, he recommends the types of engagement already mentioned but important connections also come in other forms. Form support among other parents, he says, because often that type of outreach can be even more significant to your children.
Taking more initiative, reversing the outreach can have an impact on the school as a whole. Offer suggestions from your own professional and personal experience and bring your expertise to the classroom, he urges parents.
Back at home, the conversation should never end. Speak daily about what’s going on in school and provide a rich learning environment at home, he says.
A certain level of passive influence can also be significant. Listen, take time to relax and step back into a coaching role that encourages your kids to understand the value of education, he says.
Looking forward and encompassing all that PS 364 is learning and implementing, the process of staying current in this area means constant change. “We need to keep expanding our definition of parental involvement,” he concluded.