According to interviews with school staff and parents, other family- and community-related barriers included: the rapid social and economic decay of the surrounding community; a high proportion of single parents who work long hours or two jobs, making it difficult to spend time with their children or visit the school; and a sizeable number of parents who failed to participate because of their own negative school experiences.
"There is no one way to improve parent involvement with the schools...you need to find many ways to make a school inviting to parents, because there are many different needs and personalities out there...." |
Principal, Roosevelt High School
Finding time for teachers. In addition, during 199596, its first year as a schoolwide program, Roosevelt hired a parent liaison who not only calls parents and notifies them of school, school board, and city council meetings, but also discusses their children's academic and disciplinary standing. Averaging 30 to 60 calls a day, the liaison helps teachers find the time to keep parents informed and involved.
Addressing safety concerns. Roosevelt parents play an important role in ensuring that the school is perceived as a safe place for other parents to gather. As one parent said, it may be a lack of parent presence in schools that contributes to gang violence or other threats to personal safety. To help address this problem, parents at Roosevelt have on occasion organized informal security patrols to monitor the campus.
The intensity and duration of the Alliance training vary considerably depending on the needs of a particular school. Typically, the training involves one-hour training sessions for 15 to 50 people at least once a week and often twice a week. Developing an organized, action-oriented group of leaders, however, may sometimes take longer.
Training decision makers to collaborate. DAI conducts training sessions to teach principals how to form "core teams," consisting of the principal, teachers, staff, parents, and other community/business leaders. The core teams receive training in conducting house meetings where parents, school staff, and community members share their concerns and develop an action agenda for the school.
DAI also trains school staff to conduct a Neighborhood Walk for Success as a vehicle for visiting parents and residents of the community surrounding the school. DAI then guides the school staff through a process to help them assess conditions at the campus and surrounding community, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of both. According to one DAI organizer, the most essential component of parent involvement is ongoing training. At Roosevelt, school leaders expect students during the upcoming year to form a core team and participate in the core team training.
Parent training to support learning at home. As part of this ongoing training, Roosevelt parents can participate in classes on topics such as helping their children with homework. According to the principal, this training is especially useful for parents whose past school experiences have been negative, or who did not progress very far in school themselves. For example, during the fall of 1995, parents of all sophomores and seniors who had not yet passed the TAAS were invited to an evening class on how the TAAS affects their children's academic future. The class included small-group lessons on TAAS reading and math skills as well as sample test items. School staff hoped that providing parents with information about what their children should be learning could lead to more opportunities for students to spend time at home with their parents developing and honing these skills through, for example, discussions of their homework.
"...Many parents lack academic skills themselves, so when they get inside the school, we make them feel very disadvantaged...It's hard to get parents to come to the school to meet with teachers or the principal, open up, and take the personal risk of saying `I don't know what you're talking about....'" |
Teacher, Roosevelt High
Training parents to help themselves as well as their children. Also during school year 1995-6, a core group of teachers developed three-hour, twice-weekly classes for parents, based on needs identified during the Neighborhood Walk for Success. These free sessions focused on adult literacy, computer literacy, English as a Second Language, and parenting skills.
One teacher involved in providing parent training plans to implement more parenting skills courses in the future. For example, family members of high school students need training that shows how parents can help their children develop study skills and complete applications for college or for vocational training. Current plans include having parents of high achieving Roosevelt students enrolled in advanced placement courses help train other parents to complete the steps needed to get their children into college, including taking college admissions tests on time, completing all applications on time, and collecting the necessary written references.
The process of becoming an Alliance school begins with identifying leaders and key concerns of parents and staff. At Roosevelt, the neighborhood walk was followed by individual and small group meetings that included the DAI organizer, the principal, teachers, parents, and community members. From these small group meetings, the DAI organizer and principal identified four "core teams" of teachers, parents, community members, and, in the upcoming year, students, all of whom meet regularly to discuss the issues needing attention. As one Alliance school organizer said, "The most challenging aspect of getting parents involved is to help them understand that they don't always need to be at school for a particular problem, but they can also be part of a constituency that develops a broad-based plan to improve the school."
Core team members work closely with the community to assess family needs and strengths and to develop an action agenda for the school. They have played active roles in areas such as curriculum reform. For example, parents recently helped secure a waiver from TEA to implement block scheduling, a plan they anticipated would improve both student attendance and achievement. Also, core team members worked to ensure that the school staff worked with Roosevelt's feeder schools to help them understand the value of meaningful parent involvement. Roosevelt uses its Investment Capital Fund grant from TEA to organize "vertical alignments" with its feeder schools, so that students coming to Roosevelt have strengthened academic skills and the support of their parents and families.
Roosevelt implemented a schoolwide program during the 1995-96 school year, and since that time has developed a school-parent compact that parents, teachers, and students sign annually. The compact emphasizes communication among the parties through conferences as well as parents visiting classrooms. The compact charges the school with providing (1) homework assignments to enhance what students learn in the classroom and (2) ample opportunities for parents to participate in decisions affecting their children's education. The compact also charges the school with providing parents with other opportunities for decision-making through surveys, questionnaires, and meetings. The compact further requires the school to provide parents with flexible scheduling of parent meetings, assemblies, training sessions, and school functions to maximize parent involvement.
Because Roosevelt is a schoolwide program, Title I funds help support parent involvement activities. TEA's initial Investment Capital Fund grant to Roosevelt High School was for $15,000. The school has also been awarded $59,000 from the school district for raising attendance by more than 11 percent. Additionally, Roosevelt recently received a $6,000 grant from the Pepsi-Cola Company.
At Roosevelt High, parent and community involvement with the school has also increased substantially. Some examples include:
In addition, parents indicated in focus group interviews that discipline problems have decreased. As one parent noted, "[children] know that even if their [own] parents are not there, there are parents there that care about them and will correct them."