• by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • April 2010 •
Since 1986, Texas schools have lost more than 2.9 million students. Dropout rates are growing, yet the state continues to water down school accountability. The new graduation plan guidelines for next year will sort students into graduation tracks, some of which will not prepare them for college. Parents and communities need to know about the new tracking system and how it may affect their children. We know that parents have high expectations for college and always want the best for their children, so this is one of the many important reasons we need them involved and engaged.
Within IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework (Robledo Montecel, 2005), parent and community engagement is a critical indicator for student success. I have observed in many schools that parent involvement is somewhat limited to PTO and PTA. Below are some ideas for successful parent and community engagement, based on IDRA’s principles of family leadership in education (Montemayor, 2007) and my experience as a former principal.
Principle 1: Families can be their children’s strongest advocates.
Parents will become the child’s strongest advocate when they are allowed to do so. But many feel inadequate because they do not know the system. Others fear retaliation against their child.
What Works – Building trust between parents and schools is critical. School staff must work together. Nobody works in isolation. When parents see the school staff working as a team to outreach to them, they respond positively. You can create a positive model with a goal of institutionalizing it. Expose staff to the latest research and show how it connects to student achievement through parent advocacy.
Principle 2: Families of different races, ethnicity, language and class are equally valuable.
Parents appreciate a school’s efforts to provide information in their language as well as having someone on staff who is able to communicate with them in that language. Their involvement is essential.
What Works – Create school projects that are content relevant. Students, teachers and parents can be involved from a project’s inception, and parents can take ownership and feel like equal partners. They often bring more parents and others from their community to be a part of the project. These projects validate their input, their culture and language. Showcasing these projects benefits the entire school. Training for staff on deep cultural elements creates better understanding and is important to the teaching and learning process.
Principle 3: Families care about their children’s education and are to be treated with respect, dignity and value.
Do not assume that parents of “at-risk” students do not care or do not know anything about teaching their children. Many parents cannot be at the school, but they make sure their children are there every day, on time and with homework completed.
What Works – How about giving parents a chance to work with the school? They may not know about or understand programs in school, but this does not mean that they do not care. As you build trust, the front office is key. Do not send parents away without answers to their questions, as you do not know if they walked many blocks, or if they made several bus transfers to get there. Replace anyone in the front office who is not willing to receive parents with respect. Set up a resource center just for parents.
Principle 4: Within families, many individuals play a role in the children’s education.
Many different family members play major roles in the lives of children. They know the influence they have on these children, so they too should be part of the engaged team. They should receive support and validation for what they are doing.
What Works – Parents and educators can work together to solve issues in the school. Poll all your parents for specific training topics and provide them through your Title I program.
Principle 5: Family leadership is most powerful at improving education for all children, and their efforts create solutions for the common good.
Family leadership is as powerful as you make it. If you are only working with the PTA/PTO group and raising funds, consider making these parents equal partners in education. With training, they can certainly make major contributions and provide solutions to school issues. We must learn to value their experiences and knowledge that can contribute to the school and its students.
What Works – Include parents in all of your site-based management meetings. Create a community advisory board. Parents and community people can be on the advisory board or participate in some way. Hold these meetings at least twice per year and inform them of your progress and issues needing to be solved. Designate someone on staff to assist parents on how to become volunteers. After clearance from the district, invite parents to assist with field trips and other school events. Parents appreciate being asked to volunteer for school activities. In my experience, parents volunteered to work with after school programs, such as soccer and baseball. (One parent volunteered to help other school families prepare their income tax forms.) Empower parents, recognize and acknowledge their skills and they will become great leaders and advocates for your school.
Principle 6: Families, schools and communities, when drawn together, become a strong, sustainable voice to protect the rights of all children.
Parent involvement and community engagement as per IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework is not limited to the parents of the school. Don’t leave out other community members who do not have children in your school yet want to get involved because the school is in their community.
What Works – A sincere and true effort by all staff must be made to invite parents and community members. In our school, we were able to provide a variety of evening classes, such as technology, ESL and literacy in the first language. We kept the library open until 7:00 p.m. for everyone in the community. This made computers and the Internet accessible to our students, parents and community.
Implementation of your parent involvement plan must be a true and sincere effort. Start with a committee of students, teachers, parents and others in the community. Maintain an open and standing invitation by keeping the community informed. If we are to move schools forward and assure student success, we must engage and involve all players. When you build this capacity for change and success, along with it come the state and national honors and student success.
Montemayor, A. “IDRA’s Family Leadership Principles,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2007).
Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework – Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).
Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions maybe directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]