What kind of activities can be supported in a partnership program?
There are six general types of activities that have been identified by our workshop expert Joyce Epstein. These can each be used to encourage parent and family participation in children's education. These activities can be carried out in a variety of ways, but elements of each type should appear in a well-organized partnership program.
. Parenting: The goal is to help all families establish home environments to support children as students. Planned activities can help parents think about their children's growth and development from the early years through high school and help schools understand families.
Tanika Jones, an eleventh grade student, describes her interaction with her mentor, Kathryn Doane Weiss.
- Come up with a list of suggestions for home conditions that support learning at each grade level.
- Design activities to help inform parents about child health, safety, nutrition, and development. This might take the form of workshops, videos, and e-mail messages on parenting and child rearing.
- Meetings can be organized, like an "attendance summit," designed to help parents and educators figure out ways to help children get to school every day and on time.
- Present workshops on parenting (which can be videotaped or audiotaped for those who cannot attend), parenting classes, and family support programs that provide information and offer access to healthcare and other services.
- Offer parent development and education courses (GED, college credit, family literacy programs).
- Make home visits at transitional points to preschool, elementary, middle, and high school.
. Communicating: Design effective means of communication between parents and schools, and vice versa. Communication is at the heart of partnership programs and should involve all parents. This may require translations of school materials into other languages. Communication activities can focus on improving parent-teacher conferences, report cards, handouts, newsletters, and other information that travels from schools to parents and back.
Members on the School Wide Project Committee at Clara Barton Community School CS 50, Bronx, New York talk about ways to involve parents in their school-watch project.
- Have conferences with every parent at least once a year, with follow-ups as needed.
- Provide language translators to assist families when needed.
- Send home weekly or monthly folders of student work for review and comment.
- Have parent-student pick-up of report cards, with conferences on grades.
- Schedule regular meaningful notices, memos, phone calls, newsletters, and other communications.
- Provide clear information on choosing courses, programs, and activities in school.
- Provide clear information on all school policies, programs, reforms, and transitions.
. Volunteering: Recruit and organize parents to help and support the school. This can take a variety of forms: parent volunteers can help teachers in class, work in safety patrols, offer expert advice to classes, and provide other resources.
- The volunteer committee of the ATP works to help recruit parent volunteers and develop volunteer activities that help both parents and schools.
- Designate a parent's room or family center for volunteer work, meetings, and providing resources to families.
- Conduct an annual postcard survey to identify all available talents, times, and the location of volunteers.
- Have a class parent, telephone tree, or other structure to provide all families with needed information.
- Institute parent patrols or other activities to aid safety and operation of schools.
. Learning at Home: We can provide parents with information about their children as learners. This includes information on study skills, homework, the curriculum, educational decisions, and planning for the future. Some activities help parents to monitor homework or talk with their children about what they are learning in math, science, reading, and other subjects. Activities can also give students work that can be done with family partners at home.
- Parents can facilitate and take part in their children's education by providing a study space with good lighting and the necesary materials for learning (paper, dictionary, pens, pencils, computer).
- Provide information on homework policies and how to monitor and discuss schoolwork at home.
- Regularly schedule homework that requires students to discuss and interact with families on what they are learning in class.
- Provide calendars with activities for parents and students to do at home or in the community.
- Have family math, science, and reading activities at school.
- Make up summer learning packets or activities.
- Seek out family participation in setting student goals each year and planning for college or work.
. Decision-Making: This kind of involvement stresses helping parents and community members become a part of the decision-making process in a school or district.
- Activities include PTA/PTO organizing, advisory councils to the school board or principal, and independent advocacy groups to focus on particular issues and problems.
- Providing information about school-board or other relevant elections is also part of decision-making work.
- The election or appointment of parent representatives -- who can be contacted by any family with questions, suggestions, and problems -- is another important part of involving parents in the decision-making process.
- Parents are included on the school's ATP to work with educators each year on the plan and program for family and community involvement.
- Develop district-level councils and committees for family and community involvement.
- Provide information on school or local elections for school representatives.
- Form networks to link all families with parent representatives.
. Collaborating with Community: Parents and educators can reach beyond the schools to learn to utilize local resources. Some examples include:
Dorothy R. Pecoraro, Director of the School To Work Transition Program in Rochester, New York, talks about creating youth apprenticeship programs.
- Inform parents about outside services like tutoring or mentoring programs and helping businesses get involved with school reform efforts.
- Provide information on community activities that link families with learning skills and developing talents, including summer programs for students.
- Encourage participation of alumni in school programs for students.
- Organize retreats to build consensus between educators and the community.
- Set long-range goals so that family volunteers as well as educators are farsighted in their activities and their commitment to the process of school improvement and reform. Improving schools can take place at both the local level and the district or state level.
The material in this section is reprinted with permission from: Epstein, Coates, Salinas, Sanders, and Simon. SCHOOL, FAMILY, AND COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS: YOUR HANDBOOK FOR ACTION. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press, 1997.