Six years ago, the Title I District Advisory Council decided parents needed a place where they would be welcomed and provided with educational resources. Because space was limited in most schools and many parents viewed the schools as unwelcoming, the council decided on a separate facility in a location convenient to all parents in the district. As a result, the district Office of State and Federal Programs (OSFP) established the Parent Resource Center in the fall of 1990. Open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and during scheduled weekend and evening events, the center is also available upon request for parent-initiated meetings and events.
Center staff identified several challenges to increasing parent involvement in district schools, including time and resource constraints affecting both staff and parents as well as a lack of information and training relevant to parent involvement.
More staff time to communicate with families. The center originally relied on school principals to distribute information and materials about the center and recruit parents for training opportunities. Realizing that principals have too many other competing demands to fulfill this role, the center asked them to designate a parent involvement contact person for their school in late 1996. The contact person, who may be a teacher, secretary, teacher's aide, or other support personnel, serves as a liaison to the Parent Resource Center and shares information on center materials and activities. A monthly newsletter written by parent volunteers includes information on district policies, school events, and upcoming parent training opportunities.
Accommodating parent schedules, transportation, and child care needs. The center helps meet other parent needs by using a school bus to transport them to and from the center and providing babysitters to care for their children during the center's two-day-long Title I training seminar each year. Because many parents are hesitant to leave their neighborhoods for training and workshops, center staff also often conduct workshops at school sites. Additionally, most workshops are repeated at various times to accommodate parents' schedules.
Resources for learning at home. The center operates a library with materials to help parents assist their children's school achievement, including curriculum materials, instructional aids, and videotapes and books. Each month, parents learn hands-on teaching techniques in math and language arts through center workshops conducted by district curriculum specialists. At these workshops, parents can make and take educational materials, such as flash cards and board games, to help their children learn at home. About 15 to 20 parents attend these workshops each month.
Addressing safety concerns. The center's many programs and activities encourage parents to spend time at their children's school, and according to the principal of Webster Middle School, visible parent presence on campus and in the hallways results in a safer environment for learning and more inviting campuses for families to visit. Webster's principal attributes the school's high level of parent participation to the center's mentor parent program (described below), and credits an increased parent presence at the school with decreases in student behavior problems. During the 1995-96 school year, more than 100 parents volunteered almost 4000 hours at Webster and the number of conduct code violations decreased from 647 during 1994-95 to 349 during 1995-96, despite a 15 percent increase in student enrollment. This figure includes a decrease in fights (from 224 to 112); a decrease in attacks or threats against students (from 180 to 110); a decrease in threats, injury, or attempted injury of school personnel or their property (from 26 to 4); and a decrease in possession of firearms (from 34 to 18). As a result of these improvements, the school principal reports that students feel safer in school and are more focused on learning.
Training parents for educational decision-making. To ensure that all Title I parents are fully informed of their rights and responsibilities, the center offers full-day parent training seminars on Saturdays twice a year. About 100 to 150 parents attend each of these sessions, which inform parents about how to get involved in Title I program planning and evaluation. Recognizing that English is a second language for a sizeable portion of the district's families, center staff plan during the 1996-97 school year to provide additional training sessions on Title I for Hispanic and Southeast Asian parents in their native languages, using bilingual parents as presenters.
In addition, the center offers training in the fall of each year for parents who sit on the district- and school-level Title I advisory councils. The school-based councils, which are primarily composed of parents, develop and oversee schools' plans for the Title I program. In many schools, this council has merged with the school site council to provide leadership on all school management decisions. District-level policy on Title I is guided by the district council, a majority of whose members are parents. Center training for parents includes information on creating, implementing, and evaluating a school plan for Title I, understanding school budgets, and conducting successful meetings.
Parenting. The center offers an average of four to six parenting workshops each month. Topics include the relationship between child achievement and parent expectations; "protective parenting" skills (skills to reduce the probability of children engaging in unhealthy behaviors); refusal skills (learning to say no to children and not feel guilty); and anger management. Usually, about 20 to 25 parents participate in each parenting workshop. The center also handles the scheduling and logistics of literacy training for parents, which is provided by volunteer tutors at the school sites.
Training for volunteers. The center trains volunteers to become mentor parents, who train other parents and staff at the school and district levels. At intensive three-day institutes held at a nearby conference center, mentor parents learn the objectives and requirements of federal and state categorical programs, ways to help children learn, and skills for reaching out to parents and school staff to build a partnership between home and school. Each year, the four mentor parent institutes attract parents from across the district on a first-come, first-served basis. About 300 parents have participated in the institutes since they began in early 1993.
"What we're finding is that parents calling parents to the school is more effective than principals calling parents to the school." |
Parent involvement specialist, Stockton Unified School District
Center staff have come to believe that parents are better at recruiting other parents than are school staff. Outreach efforts by the mentor parents have not only encouraged parents to become involved but also had a dramatic impact on at least one school. Two years ago Webster Middle School 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 the center for help, and the staff in turn called a mentor parent at the school, who then 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 near elimination of gang-related activity at the school.
Training for school staff. At first, the center stressed extensive training for parents on becoming involved with the school and working with teachers, without providing equal support for teachers and other staff in the district. Consequently, school staff did not always welcome parents who wanted to become involved. Some teachers in fact felt threatened by parents who had received leadership training at the center, and these parents were labeled as troublemakers and discouraged from school involvement. To address this problem, mentor parents conducted workshops for school staff on obstacles to parent involvement in schools--such as parents' negative prior experiences with school, labeling, and bias based on a parent's socio-economic status, race, gender, physical appearance, or language ability--and strategies teachers can use to overcome them. All district principals participated in this workshop during the summer of 1995; the entire staff at three schools later participated in similar workshops, which are now continuing at other schools. During the 1995-96 school year, mentor parents spent 400 hours making presentations to teachers, administrators, and support staff. Because clerical staff are usually the parents' first contact with the school, the district also recently hired two consultants to provide a two-day workshop for clerical staff from across the district on a customer service approach to interacting with parents.
"The main barrier to effective parent involvement is changing teacher and parent attitudes ... because there is a sense of distrust and a lot of blaming.... We have to improve how we teach and how we parent, and to do that parents need to feel welcome at the school." |
Parent involvement specialist, Stockton Unified School District
The district has also implemented recognition efforts to help schools encourage parent involvement. Since 1985 the district has held an end-of-year volunteer recognition night to honor the two parents from each school who have volunteered the most hours. The 70-75 parents recognized at this event each year have volunteered more than 25,000 hours. As a means of encouraging schoolwide efforts to increase parent involvement, the center established a recognition program in 1995-96 for schools with high rates of parent involvement.
The center collects information on volunteer hours of mentor parents; it found that last year parents who attended the Mentor Parent Institute spent almost 3,500 hours volunteering in their children's schools as teachers' assistants in classrooms, libraries, playgrounds, and cafeterias; 1,200 hours making presentations to other parents on parent involvement; and 400 hours providing parent involvement workshops to teachers, administrators, and support staff. In addition, many of these parents served as members of their school site and school advisory councils and as members of the district advisory council for Title I. Because they are charged with recruiting other parents to volunteer at their children's schools, mentor parents have also played a pivotal role in increasing schoolwide parent involvement in a number of schools.
The Parent Resource Center is currently developing plans for evaluating its programs, including the collection of baseline data on parent involvement in the district and determination of a method for evaluating the effectiveness of center programs in encouraging parent involvement in the schools. As part of this effort, all schools will be asked to keep records of parent volunteer hours beginning in the 1996-97 school year. Staff of the Parent Resource Center are also exploring ways to measure the effects of parent involvement on children's educational achievement. Center staff plan to develop a parent survey to determine what new training opportunities would be most useful to parents.