Why should family and community be connected to schools?
One thing that all sides in the educational debate agree upon is that parents and local communities should be involved in education.
Dr. Morey Menacker, a practicing physician, has become involved in teaching about health in a local school.
Many studies have shown that when parents and families are involved in their children's schools, their children do better. When local community members become involved in schools, they can act as role models and mentors and provide an additional layer of support and inspiration for students and teachers.
There is no cookie-cutter set of programs that will work for all schools, or for all family and community members, says Dr. Joyce Epstein
1, one of our workshop experts. However, Epstein has identified six general types of activities that can help parents, schools, and communities come together to support children's education: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community. Partnership programs should draw on each of these elements, she says, and design a program that takes into account the unique character of the local community and the needs of its students and families.
There are a number of ways to create family partnerships with schools, says our other workshop expert Heather Weiss
2. Some focus on schools, and others focus on parents as the most active agents in the partnership equation. But both approaches target the same goal: programs that engage all the members of a community in the education of their children.
Building Partnership Programs
One way to meet these goals is to create a formalized School, Family, and Community Partnership
3 program. This is a comprehensive program consisting of activities selected by each school to help students reach important goals.
Well-organized partnership programs can create goal-oriented activities that help students reach high levels of achievement. These activities do not promote involvement for involvement's sake but are designed to meet specific, measurable goals. Planning these goals is the first step of the program.
One goal might be that all parents in the community, including single mothers and other busy people with little free time, can be informed and involved in their children's education at home and/or at school. Each community is different and will have its own set of needs.
For example, the needs of the students who attend an inner-city school in New Haven and their families will differ from the needs of middle-income students and families at a school in Northern California. One school might have students from Vietnam and Cambodia, whose parents may not be native speakers of English, while another might contain Spanish-speaking students. It is also important that all families, not just those who have traditionally been active in school programs, can be informed and participate fully.
The first step in developing a partnership program is to organize an Action Team for Partnerships
4. This team consist of educators, parents/guardians, and community partners devoted to working together to improve education and involvement activities at a particular school. The team takes responsibility for examining present school practices and improving them to increase communication and family and community involvement.
Mary Jule Welch, a teacher at the Bioscience and Health Careers Academy, talks about the role and duties of mentors in her high-school program.
Ongoing assessment of the partnership project is an integral part of the program. Goals should be determined at the outset by doing an assessment of the particular community's needs and desires as well as the needs of the school and its educators. Working together to develop this assessment is a good way to draw parents, family members, people in the community, and educators into the process. Once these goals have been determined, efforts to meet them can begin. And since assessment is ongoing, the program can continually be redirected in its course and efforts to achieve its goals. For more on assessment, see the "Exploration" section of this workshop.
Family and community involvement is an essential component of a successful school program -- along with curriculum, instruction, assessment, and other aspects of regular school life. Good communication and relationships among schools, families, and communities help to maximize students' chances of success.