How do family and community involvement with schools relate to traditional educational ideas?
When people think of parent involvement in schools, they typically imagine a middle-class parent attending a PTA meeting or school board meeting, or volunteering to make cupcakes for a class party.
Today, many educators realize that this image is not accurate or fully inclusive of the parents of many of our children. Most parents work and aren't home during the day, and many don't have time to attend school board or PTA/PTO meetings. Working, single, and married parents are often unable to attend parent-teacher meetings during the school day and often find it even more difficult to participate in evening meetings. Families with several children in different grades also find it difficult, if not impossible, to be involved in many separate meetings at different schools.
An open, friendly environment is created in an Indianapolis school system.
In order to involve parents today, it is necessary to make schools feel like open and friendly places, and educators must encourage parents to participate in a variety of ways.
The first step is to explore the character of the particular local community that surrounds your school and determine the needs of the families who live there.
One way for schools to reach out into the community might involve starting conversations and planning activities with churches, temples, mosques, local ethnic groups, and community-based organizations. Schools can gain additional resources and a better understanding of their students' backgrounds by reaching out to their community organizations. Parents in these organizations may feel alienated from traditional educators, and they may welcome the schools' outreach efforts. Ultimately, when educators, community groups, and parents present a united front, they can become a powerful force for school reform.
Educators must work to improve existing forms of communication between schools and parents. Here are a few simple examples of ways to improve communication:
- Educators can increase the clarity and content of notices and memos that go home, (i.e., report cards, invitations to parent/teacher/student conferences, school newsletters, and calendars).
- Better communication can be developed by translating report cards, notices, and memos into the diverse languages found in the community. Schools can also provide translators at one-on-one meetings and community meetings.
- Educators can develop better ways to inform parents about school attendance, homework, and other policies. They might use e-mail, for example, or post student work on Web sites to reach out to parents who can't make it to school.
- All communications should include ways for parents to ask questions and share ideas, input, and reactions to improve school programs and children's experiences.
- Home-school communication can occur both formally and informally. Informal communication, such as that which occurs between a parent and a teacher during drop-off and pick-up times, can be as important as more formal communication occurring through parent-teacher conferences, newsletters, or open houses.
For example, although one child's mother did not attend any formal conferences, she had regular contact with her child's teacher. The teacher called the mother at work from the classroom when the child was misbehaving. This on-the-spot communication and problem solving helped the child improve his classroom behavior.
- It is also important to remember that a variety of sources are used in communicating and gathering information, such as a child's siblings, extended family working in the school, a parent observing through a classroom window, a school guidance counselor, an after-school provider, or an article in the local newspaper.
Educators who have developed community partnership programs also recognize that parent involvement should not be limited to the preschool or kindergarten level. Connections and involvement are important at all grade levels.