A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
Family Involvement in Children's Education - October 1997
Successful Local Approaches (continued)
Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff
Without the information and skills to communicate with each other, misperceptions and distrust can flourish between parents and school personnel. In fact, most parents and school staff in Title I schools receive little training on how to work with one another. For example, almost half of principals (48 percent) in K-8 Title I schools report that lack of staff training in working with parents is a great or moderate barrier to parent involvement (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Initiatives to bridge the information gap between parents and schools are at the center of each of the 20 schools reviewed for this Idea Book. Through workshops and a variety of outreach activities such as informative newsletters, handbooks, and home visits, parents and school staff across these programs are learning how to trust each other and work together to help children succeed in school. Their approaches include helping parents support learning at home, preparing parents to participate in school decision-making, and providing teachers, principals, and school staff with strategies for reaching out to parents and working with them as partners. These approaches share an emphasis on training and information that is grounded in the needs and goals of families and school staff, and that focus on changing the negative attitudes that parents and school staff may hold towards each other.
Training to Inform and Involve Parents
All of the schools and districts interviewed by telephone for this study offer parents training and information through workshops held weekly, monthly, or several times throughout the year. Parent training activities across the 20 programs focus on one or more of four areas of parent involvement: parenting, learning at home, decision-making in schools, and volunteering.
Parenting workshops. Workshops on parenting help families learn about child development and how to support student academic learning. Parenting workshops cover a number of different issues, such as children's language development and learning styles, parent nurturing and discipline strategies, child abuse prevention, and nutrition and health practices. For example, Stockton's Parent Resource Center offers four to six parenting workshops each month on topics such as the relationship between child achievement and parent expectations, "protective parenting" skills to prevent children from engaging in unhealthy behaviors, and anger management. The center also trains "mentor parents" at intensive three-day institutes. As mentors, they help other parents learn about strategies for helping children learn and outreach strategies that build partnerships between schools and families.
Schools can also help build parenting skills by assisting parents in reaching their own academic and vocational goals. In collaboration with local community colleges, many programs connect parents to adult education courses to receive a General Educational Development (GED) credential, college credit, or develop job-related skills.
- The district-sponsored Parent Center in the Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo, New York, offers parent-child computer classes for students in grades 6 through 12. Classes bring parents and their children together to develop skills in desktop publishing and computer programming. For parents who cannot attend the center, the Take Home Computer Program orients parents on how to install and operate computers that they can keep for five to six weeks. On a survey about the 1994-95 Take Home Computer Program, 44 percent of parents reported that the program had a significant effect on their child's motivation toward learning; 52 percent reported that it had some effect. All parents reported noticeable or significant improvements in their children's math and reading skills.
In addition, parents participating in the center's Even Start program have many choices to meet their educational needs, including: classes in adult basic education to earn their GED, computer literacy training that can lead to advanced courses and college credit, English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, and classes in parenting skills.
- Ferguson Elementary School in Philadelphia offers an adult evening school in conjunction with a nearby university. During 1995-96, 25 parents received certificates of continuing education from the university. Last year, classes were offered in computer literacy, self-esteem, ESL, and Spanish literacy. Courses are offered at the school site and taught by teachers, parents, and community members. To support parent involvement, the university provides stipends for babysitters who care for the children of participants.
Helping parents support learning at home. Every family functions as a learning environment, regardless of its income level, structure, or ethnic and cultural background. In this respect, every family has the potential to support and improve the academic achievement of its children. When parents hold high expectations for their children and encourage them to work hard, they support student success in school.
Many parent programs offer workshops, hands-on training opportunities, or conduct home visits that help parents support their children's learning at home. These sessions offer ideas to families about how to help students with curriculum-related activities, homework, and other academic decisions and planning.
- During the 1995-96 school year, all first-grade teachers at Ferguson Elementary received training from Temple University to improve parent involvement. First-grade teachers, Temple trainers, and parents first met to discuss how the school should and could involve parents. Then all first-grade teachers met with Temple trainers to discuss priorities, chief among them being how to get parents to support learning at home and reinforce what students learn at school. Two of the first-grade teachers, along with Temple staff, then offered parents a series of five two-hour workshops on how to help children with reading and math at home. Parents learned, for example, how to use a list of common words to help children make sentences, learn grammar, and sharpen their reading skills; they also learned how to use a "number line" manipulative to help children practice adding and subtracting. Each year, parents who have completed this training help train the parents of new first-grade students.
- Schools in the Stockton, California, Unified School District offer parents workshops on hands-on teaching techniques to use with their children in math and language arts. At these workshops, parents can "make and take" educational materials, such as flash cards and board games, to use with their children at home.
- Buhrer Elementary School in Cleveland conducts family math and science workshops, where children and their families spend an evening at the school working on math and science activities together. In 1996, 35 parents attended the family math workshop. Buhrer also provides families with curriculum packets that parents can use at home; for example, last year's packets for primary school children included short stories and counting exercises using household materials.
- Parents at Wendell Phillips Magnet School in Kansas City asked for and received weekly student progress reports to help them keep track of the areas in which their children needed more work. A curriculum report will be issued to parents beginning in the second semester of the 1996-97 school year. As one focus group parent commented, ``If I know what my child is studying I can help him at home, and I can see what progress he is making.''
- More than 60 families with children under the age of eight are enrolled in the Buffalo Parent Center's Even Start program, which is offered in collaboration with the local adult learning center. Parents in the adult education program agree to accompany their children to the Parent Center for a minimum of 12 hours a week. Time at the Parent Center is set aside for ``parent and child time'' in the early childhood center, where families can use developmentally appropriate computer programs. The parent center also employs home liaisons who conduct home visits with the Even Start families once a week.
Several other parent programs inform parents how to develop study skills to prepare for required tests; parents also learn how to interpret test results to identify the areas in which their children may need further assistance. In focus groups some parents voiced their frustration at receiving the results of student testing and the school's ranking but no information about what the numbers mean. In addition, parent workshops offer parents important information to help them plan for their children's educational future. For example, Roosevelt High School, a schoolwide program in the Dallas Independent School District, Dallas, Texas, invites parents to an evening class to review the state assessment instrument and the skills their children are expected to demonstrate on the test. Next year, the staff will provide parent training on helping students develop study skills to prepare for the required tests. Parents will also receive training and information on how to prepare their children to attend college (e.g., completing financial aid forms, obtaining references, preparing for required standardized tests).
Preparing parents to participate in school decision-making. Many programs encourage parents to join school committees that make decisions on curriculum policies, parent involvement activities, the school budget, and reform initiatives. In schoolwide program schools, administrators and teachers can play crucial roles in keeping parents informed about the program and the guidelines they need to follow. One focus group parent said, "[The principal and Title I home-school liaison] make sure we keep up with what is going on with the Title I plan and procedures....we discuss this in our school advisory council meetings...we know who we receive the funding from and how we spend it. The parents helped write the Title I [schoolwide] plan." In addition, several parents participating in focus groups said that they had been involved in writing the Title I required school-parent compact, and commented that their participation provided some clear guidance on what parents need to do to help their children succeed academically and also gave them the sense that they were doing their part. Many schools offer training to help parents become effective decision-makers.
- The Parent Resource Center in Stockton prepares parents for decision-making roles through special training on topics such as creating, implementing, and evaluating a Title I school plan, understanding school budgets, and conducting successful meetings. Several parent participants have become members, board members, and officers of two organizations that advocate parental involvement: The California Association of Compensatory Education and the National Coalition of Title I/Chapter 1 Parents.
- Parents who serve on the Atenville Elementary School Action Research Team receive training on action research two or three times a year from the Institute for Responsive Education in Boston, Massachusetts. Last year, training sessions focused on education reform strategies such as working collaboratively, developing action plans, and goal-setting. In 1996, several Atenville parents put these skills to work as they successfully lobbied the Board of Education to keep the school's K?6 configuration.
Volunteer preparation. Rather than simply asking and expecting parents to volunteer in schools, several programs offer parents training on how to volunteer useful assistance to school staff and students.
- Parents at Atenville Elementary School volunteer as teacher aides in the classroom, provide teachers and administrators with logistical support, and help supervise children in the library and during lunch and recess periods. To prepare parents for these duties, the school provides two volunteer training sessions each fall to inform parents about school policies on discipline and confidentiality and to offer guidance on assisting teachers in the classroom as aides and tutors. Parents also learn about basic school office procedures, such as operating the copier machine and answering telephones. In 1995-96, 100 parents representing almost half of the families at the school participated in volunteer training.
- For the past two years, the Maine SAD #3 district volunteer coordinator has directed parent volunteer activities. As part of her job, she recruits volunteer coordinators for each school, and these individuals typically parents survey parents and teachers, distribute volunteer handbooks, and coordinate the yearly volunteer activities and schedules. To support individual school volunteer efforts, the district hosts an evening program for parents at the beginning of each year to inform them of volunteer activities available at each school. In addition, the district coordinator presents an orientation workshop at each school also at the beginning of each year to teach parents how to become more involved in their children's school and education. This year, the district volunteer coordinator plans to bring all of the coordinators together to compile a districtwide volunteer manual. During the 1995-1996 school year, volunteers contributed 3,500 hours to the district's public schools. The coordinator also organizes an annual teacher workshop entitled Building Effective Relationships with Volunteers to provide participants with ideas and skills for viewing parents as a resource.
Information and Training Provided Through Family Resource Centers
Family resource centers offer many types of supports to families, including parenting classes, the organization of volunteer activities for schools, and the provision of information and ideas to families about how to help children with homework and other curriculum-related activities. Some also provide families with services such as the transportation and child care needed for families to participate in center activities, as well as referrals for health, employment, or housing needs. All operate under the guiding philosophy that schools and families need broad-based support to educate children.
- The Family Resource Center at Charter Oak School in the West Hartford School District, West Hartford, Connecticut, was one of the first state-established family resource centers directly linked to a local public school system. The center works closely with school staff and the parent-teacher organization to sponsor family activities and facilitate home-school communication. About 30-35 parents of school-age children visit the center each week. It offers a comfortable place where parents can read the latest books on parenting or meet teachers for lunch, and families can obtain child care referrals and scholarship information, receive counseling for problems, use the homework center, and participate in adult education classes. School-age children can register for mini-courses or borrow a toy for the weekend.
- The Greensville County Public Schools' Mobile Parent Resource Center in Emporia, Virginia, offers a model for making parent resource centers more accessible to rural parents. The mobile parent resource center is a 34-foot customized bus that serves parents of students receiving Title I services and travels to four sites a day remaining at least two hours at each site. It houses two classrooms equipped with adjustable tables, chairs, bulletin boards, chalkboards, televisions, a video-cassette recorder, cassette players, and laptop computers. Instructional materials include parenting videos and kits, books, newspapers, magazines, computer software, models, and samples of instructional materials that parents can check out to use with their children. Both reading and non-reading parents are trained there as tutors to work with their children. Parents receive help in selecting appropriate books to read with their children, and see videos of families reading and learning together. The parent resource center serves 12?18 parents at a time. Six area businesses allow the parent resource center to visit their work sites so that employees who are parents can visit before or after work or during breaks.
Outreach Strategies to Keep Parents Informed
Schools that are successful in building school-family partnerships develop and use outreach mechanisms to channel information to parents on an ongoing basis. These mechanisms include distributing weekly or monthly parent newsletters, posting fliers in places where parents congregate, developing parent handbooks, making telephone calls, and conducting home visits. One focus group participant underscored the importance of school-home contacts that share positive information about children as well as problems the child may be having.
Several of the programs profiled for this report have developed special strategies for ensuring that each family receives personal, customized communication from their child's school throughout the school year:
- Schoolwide programs at Turnbull Learning Academy in the San Mateo-Foster City School District, San Mateo, California, and South Delta Elementary School in the South Delta School District, Rolling Fork, Mississippi, implemented weekly take-home folders that include a parent participation sheet, information on upcoming events, and recent curriculum activities and graded tests. Parents sign and return folders each week. Teachers and parents report that the folders provide important academic information for parents, teachers, and students, and help increase parent-school communication.
- At Atenville Elementary, parent volunteers call all parents monthly to inform them about school events and to solicit feedback on past and future parent involvement activities. Several programs also reach out through home-school liaisons and parent coordinators, whose prime responsibility is to keep parents informed and maintain an open line of communication among families, schools, and community agencies.
- Parent volunteer coordinators in South Bay Union Elementary School District in Imperial Beach, California, also make home visits and inform families about social services offered throughout the community.
Maine's SAD #3 uses parent outreach to help bring community members and school staff together in support of shared educational goals. The district sponsors Community Day, an annual community-wide outreach and training effort. It brings families and community members together with teachers and school staff to participate in team-building activities, set educational goals, and devise strategies for accomplishing these goals. As a result of one recent Community Day, the town of Liberty initiated a plan to open a community library. Open to the general public, the Community Day activities are advertised through direct mailings, spots on a local cable station, newspaper advertisements, and local grassroots networking.
Information and Training for School Staff
Some schools offer teachers, principals, and school staff information and strategies on how to reach out to parents and work with them as partners. This can be especially beneficial to school staff who typically received little or no preservice training in these skills. In addition, changes in family structures and community life can require new or different family outreach strategies from what may have been effective in the past. Professional development activities may include sessions on making telephone calls, home visits, and other contact strategies, students' home culture and appreciating diversity, communication skills for parent-teacher conferences, and involving parents as leaders and decision-makers in the schools.
Special training for teachers and other school staff can play a key role in dispelling some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that become barriers to effective partnerships between parents and teachers. Parents in some schools, for example, take teachers on Community Walks that introduce teachers to the local neighborhood and help them understand the lives of their students outside of school. One parent in an inner-city high school described the purpose of these walks at her school:
We had to educate them [the teachers] about the community [and] what children here may be going through... [On] Community Walks some teachers were actually amazed that some of the parents live in nice homes that are well taken care of. On these walks it became apparent that the teachers had a lot of stereotypes about the kids they were teaching and their families...
Other schools have found that engaging parent coordinators or parent volunteers to train school staff not only builds parents' leadership skills but also offers teachers the opportunity to learn about families from parents' perspectives.
Additional training activities include the following:
- Staff at Hueco Elementary, a schoolwide program in the Socorro Independent School District, El Paso, Texas, receive training for home visits and family outreach from a successful parent coordinator employed in a neighboring district. Staff on the family support team also receive training for supporting and working with parents of students with academic or behavioral problems.
- Last year in Stockton, California, mentor parents who are trained at the district's Parent Resource Center spent 5,000 hours in the schools providing professional development to school staff on parent involvement and home-school communication. Among other activities, mentor parents conducted four workshops on obstacles to parent involvement in schools, including parents' negative prior experiences with school that may discourage them from participating, and teacher bias that may result from a parent's different socio-economic status, race, gender, physical appearance, or language ability.
- The Alamo Navajo Community School, a schoolwide program operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Magaleno, New Mexico, hosts a cultural orientation program to inform new teachers (almost all of whom are non-Navajo) about the Navajo culture and how to form positive, culturally respectful relationships with Navajo parents. Teachers visit students' homes and learn about reservation life and the rural conditions in which students live; teachers visit an average of eight homes each month.
[Overcoming Time and Resource Constraints]
[Restructuring Schools to Support Family Involvement]