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)
Overcoming Time and Resource Constraints
In order to build strong partnerships, families and school staff members need time to get to know one another, learn from one another, and plan how they will work together to increase student learning; this need can be especially pressing in Title I schools. For example, principals of K-8 Title I schools report that time is a barrier to parent involvement more often than any other factor. Eighty-seven percent of Title I principals report that lack of time on the part of parents is a significant barrier to parent involvement, and 56 percent report that lack of time on the part of school staff is a barrier (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Almost all Title I schools and districts that have been successful in developing strong school-family partnerships have found ways to make time for parents and teachers to work together and to use other resources to support their partnerships.
Finding Time for Teachers
Strategies for helping teachers make time to develop school-family partnerships include (1) assigning parent coordinators or home-school liaisons to help teachers maintain contact with parents through home visits or by covering classes for teachers so they can meet with parents, (2) providing time during the school day for teachers to meet with parents or visit them at their homes, (3) providing stipends or compensatory time off for teachers to meet with parents after school hours, and (4) freeing up teachers from routine duties, such as lunchroom supervision, in order to meet with students' family members. Home-school liaisons can also handle many of the logistical tasks associated with fostering school-family partnerships, such as contacting all families by telephone at the beginning of the school year and encouraging parent activities at home and at school. In this way liaisons free teachers to concentrate on building relationships. In fact, focus group interviews suggest that having a parent fill the role of liaison can help parents form a strong network of support to stay involved in school activities and decisions.
In addition to helping teachers make the most efficient use of their limited time, some schools have also found ways to buy more time for teachers or to allow teachers to use their time more flexibly. Some schools use Title I resources strategically to help buy time for teachers; other schools have adopted "flexible scheduling" as a feature of teacher contracts that allow teachers more time to interact with parents outside of the traditional school day. The schools reviewed for this study have used the following strategies for freeing up teachers to work with parents:
- Atenville Elementary, a schoolwide program in the Lincoln County Public Schools, Harts, West Virginia, gives teachers release time to conduct home visits with classes covered by the principal or another teacher. The school uses Title I funds to support a part-time parent coordinator to organize the "telephone tree" program, which helps maintain home-school communications. The coordinator also organizes parent volunteers to help make home visits. Parent volunteers staff lunch and recreational periods to give teachers a daily in-school planning period that can be used to meet with parents. From 1991?92 to 1995?96, the number of parent volunteer hours rose from 2,000 to 7,000.
- Ferguson Elementary, a schoolwide program in the School District of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), uses Title I funds to provide compensation for teachers who conduct parent workshops in the evening and on weekends. Title I funds also support the parent involvement coordinator and school-community coordinator. These coordinators operate the Parent Network that helps teachers communicate information to students and parents about upcoming events. The 1995?96 fall open house drew 350 parents, compared with 30 parents in the fall of 1989. In addition, about 50 parents volunteer as classroom aides each week.
- The Wendell Phillips Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School in the Kansas City Public Schools, Kansas City, Missouri, uses its schoolwide program to employ a full-time parent-community liaison. The liaison keeps teachers informed about family needs and helps teachers spread information on school-related issues to all parents. For example, last year the parent-community liaison led an orientation for parents on state and district school policies; more than 150 parents attended. The liaison helps organize all school-family events, allowing teachers and principals to spend more time meeting with parents to discuss student learning and less time making logistical and administrative arrangements to organize events.
Other Resources to Support Schools' Outreach to Families
In addition to using resources to free up time for teachers, schools can also deploy their resources strategically to help teachers and other staff overcome the logistical constraints that often hinder their work with families. Some schools are using technology to support school-home communication; in addition to providing easier access to telephones for teachers, some schools are using voice mail, "information hotlines," and other technology to make communication more efficient. For example:
- In Maine's School Administration District (SAD) #3, in Thorndike, Maine, several communication strategies address barriers posed by the long distances between schools and homes in this rural area. Several grants from the local telephone company, Nynex, and the state's Public Utilities Commission have supported the wiring of schools for computers and telephone hub sites to allow parents to communicate with schools via computer. Parents can use terminals at nearby schools or local town halls to communicate with the schools their children attend, which are often many miles away.
- Each Atenville Elementary school teacher has a telephone in his or her classroom to enable home-school communication throughout the school day.
- At Ferguson Elementary School, Title I funds pay for the telephone line used by the Parent Network and for other resources and materials for parent and staff workshops on parent involvement.
Helping Parents Overcome Time and Resource Constraints
Schools can be sensitive to time pressures facing parents by scheduling meetings at night (in neighborhoods where parents feel safe traveling to the school at night) or before shifts to accommodate the schedules of working parents or on weekend mornings to address parents' safety concerns. Schools can also help parents by: (1) providing early notices of meetings and activities, allowing parents time to adjust their schedules; (2) establishing homework hotlines or voice mail systems so parents can stay in touch with their children's schoolwork without leaving their homes (Moles, 1996); (3) offering the same event more than once; and (4) providing information to parents who could not attend a meeting to keep them informed.
Schools can also address parents' resource constraints by: (1) providing parents with transportation and child care services so that they can attend school events; (2) holding school- initiated events near families' homes (e.g., at community or public housing centers); and (3) conducting home visits. In focus group interviews, parents noted that these supports send a strong message that the school is serious about getting them involved. One parent noted, "They could offer incentives; transportation and help with babysitting or child care would be helpful."
The following schools have developed strategies to help parents overcome the time and commuting barriers (e.g., distance from school, lack of transportation) that deter many parents from interacting directly with schools:
- At Buhrer Elementary, a schoolwide program in the Cleveland Public Schools, Cleveland, Ohio, teachers hold parent conferences off-campus in places that are closer to parents' and students' homes. The school also holds Block Parent Meetings for those families who cannot attend school events because they live on the outskirts of the community and lack transportation. Block meetings address parent concerns and offer an opportunity to share school-related information. These meetings take place every two or three months in a parent's home or a nearby library. A typical meeting attracts 18-20 parents, and the principal reports a continuing increase in the number of block parents attending school functions since the program began.
- Several schools also offer transportation and child care services and hold events in the evenings and on weekends to enable parents to attend parent workshops or other school-related events. For example, at Rodney B. Cox Elementary, a schoolwide program in the Pasco County Public Schools, Dade City, Florida, the parent involvement coordinator organizes carpools for parents to attend events. At Cox, up to 200 parents participate in workshops each month. The district-wide Parent Resource Center in Stockton, California, hired a school bus driver to take parents to the center and provides babysitters to care for young children. To accommodate parents' needs, Ferguson Elementary offers workshops and classes on the weekends and evening and also provides child care services; Saturday workshops have attracted 100-150 parents each. And in Maine's SAD #3, both teachers and parents are encouraged to bring their families to potluck nights, a strategy to increase school-family communication that has led to higher attendance rates at these events. Three potluck nights held during the 1995-96 school year attracted increasing numbers of participants?roughly 50, 70, and 100 families.
- School staff at Cane Run Elementary, a schoolwide program in the Jefferson County Public Schools, Louisville, Kentucky, report that many parents find it difficult to come into the school building to volunteer, so Cane Run's Family Resource Center staff coordinates volunteer activities that parents can carry out from home, such as preparing mailings, making telephone calls, and writing newsletters.
Resolving Safety Concerns
To address the fact that many parents, especially those with children attending high-poverty schools, are concerned about traveling to and from their child's school at night, schools and communities can be responsible for assuring that school neighborhoods are safe. For example, communities can set up neighborhood watches to combat crime, and schools can hold events in churches or community centers located near parents' homes. Parent resource centers can also offer activities in locations near parents' homes. The Stockton Unified School District Parent Resource Center in Stockton, California, for example, often offers workshops at local school sites because many parents are hesitant to leave their own neighborhoods.
Parents themselves play an important role in ensuring that the school is perceived as a safe place for other parents to gather. As the parent involvement specialist at Stockton's Parent Resource Center noted, parents at the center have not only encouraged other parents to become involved but also had a dramatic impact on at least one school. Two years ago Webster Middle School in Stockton experienced gang-related problems. After a fight occurred between two gang members in the school one afternoon, rumors began to circulate of a big confrontation that would take place the next day. Concerned about gang warfare erupting at the school, the school principal called for help. A mentor parent at the school called other parents and organized them for action. The next day 40 parents showed up at the school to help patrol the halls and school grounds. The principal asserts that this show of parental support, along with the parents' ongoing volunteer efforts, has led to the virtual elimination of gang-related activity at the school.
In addition, when asked if safety issues deter parents from coming to the school, parents at one urban high school responded that the best example they can set for other parents is not to stay away. "There is no safe place anymore; we make it safe with our presence," said one parent. "We keep an eye out on the children, and we have security patrols that drive around," noted a parent at another inner-city school. "But safety is another reason why parents should be involved."
[Successful Local Approaches to Family Involvement in Education]
[Providing Information and Training to Parents and School Staff]