• by Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2006 • 

Three years ago, I was fortunate to become the principal of Eastwood Academy Charter High School in the Houston Independent School District. Through the collaborative efforts of educators, students, parents, community members and business partners, we provide an innovative and stimulating educational environment. These students are intelligent, hard-working individuals who benefit from the additional guidance and mentoring that the small school environment allows. The academy provides a challenging college preparatory curriculum and emphasis on mathematics, science, technology and the fine arts, along with dual-credit courses through Houston Community College.

The instructional philosophy of the academy focuses on a student-centered environment in which faculty members serve as facilitators and mentors. Schoolwide portfolio assessments and projects involving teachers, students and parents complement project-integrated instruction. Student self-esteem is promoted through leadership opportunities within the classroom, in student organizations and in the community. The foundational beliefs that all children can learn and that every student is valuable are cornerstones in the instructional philosophy of the academy.

Parents play an integral part in the school. Much of our parent involvement work has evolved from my work with the Intercultural Development Research Association, which is based on both experience and the research literature, and from direct assistance provided by IDRA through the Texas Parent Information and Resource Center, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Eastwood Academy has a current enrollment of 257 students in grades nine through 12, of which 96.5 percent are Hispanic, 43.6 percent are considered at-risk of dropping out, and 87.2 percent are economically disadvantaged. Although we do not have English as a second language classes, we do have four ESL-certified teachers who work with Eastwood’s limited-English-proficient students.

Parent Engagement at Eastwood Academy

In one recent semester, Eastwood’s parents contributed 1,195 hours of volunteer work to the school. Parents give volunteer hours by attending meetings, events, celebrations, school wide projects, and trainings. The district requires a background check on all parent volunteers, and more than 80 parents have already been screened and approved to serve.

In 2005, more than 40 parents completed a 120-hour training course on computer technology. Each parent received a certificate of accomplishment from El Technologio de Monterrey. They also received a refurbished computer that was provided through a department of the district.

Parents and other community members are enrolled in Eastwood’s ESL classes taking place during the day, and others come on a daily basis just to see what they can do to help in the school. Some help in the library, others help monitor lunch, while others help in the front office.

It is critical that parents are aware of the school improvement plan. Eastwood holds an open house in September, and separate grade parent meetings are held in October for parents to learn about the plan, to make recommendations and to set expectations of the students and themselves.

Discussions are held on the impact of the Stanford 10, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills by grade level and other important testing, such as the PSAT and SAT. Plans for scholarships, college nights and dual credit courses also are discussed along with the schoolwide projects and technology opportunities for students as well as parents. Class syllabi are passed out by teachers in two languages as a means of setting expectations.

Methods for Supporting Parent Engagement

It is not necessary to have door prizes or food for parents to participate in school activities and meetings as is suggested by some educators and researchers. The following are some things that are critical.

  • Value parents for who they are, what they know and what they bring to the table. Parents are important and must know that their contributions are valued and respected.
  • Maintain an open-door policy with parents, but make it meaningful. Some parents are made to feel welcome at the school door but are kept at a distance once inside.
  • Make sure your front office staff are prepared to work with visiting parents in a responsible and respectful way.
  • Do not leave parents waiting, their time is valuable. If necessary, leave important tasks or meetings to see a parent who has come by to visit.
  • Welcome unscheduled visits from parents. School administrators should make the time to see them and to provide as much information as possible without interrupting teachers. If the administrator is not able to provide the information immediately, the parent should be contacted as soon as the information becomes available.
  • Maintain constant communication in all the parents’ languages.
  • Keep parents informed of events and important happenings at the school.
  • Send information home by mail and, in many cases, by registered mail.
  • Do not hold sessions on how to be a better parent. This is not a valuing approach to working with parents.
  • Do not instruct parents to participate. Point out their assets and let them know they can participate in the process in their own ways.
  • Explain, in lay terms, the significance of the grades, testing, discipline and the code of student conduct.
  • Talk to parents about all the efforts being put into practice in order to make the school a safe place for students where no bullying is allowed, and when it does occur, is handled immediately.
  • Let parents know your standards and focus on how they already provide support, such as being available to discuss their child’s progress, their willingness to help the school, and their willingness to continue their own growth either through technology classes, ESL or GED. Take the opportunity during their visits to learn what else they would like to see at school.
  • Seek parents’ talents, as many come with much knowledge and training. One Eastwood parent, who was a teacher in Mexico, has volunteered to teach literacy in Spanish for parents who have never been to school. This will be done through the Consulado Mexicano, and participants can get a certificate for completing primary and secondary levels.
  • Provide parents with information on available community services. Through the Communities in Schools programs, parents can get medical, psychological, dental, vision, financial and other assistance. Eastwood also offers the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program (developed by IDRA), which is an internationally-recognized dropout prevention program.
  • Keep community partners informed of the students’ and parents’ needs. They are a resource for scholarship monies and donations to help schools.

Putting these ideas into practice may not be easy but is well worth the time. Be assured, if parents have a chance, they will support the school and will keep students on task, working toward passing exams, and getting ready for college.

Rogelio López del Bosque, Ed.D., is principal of Eastwood Academy High School in the Houston ISD. He is also a former staff member of IDRA. Comments may be directed to him via e-mail at: feedback@idra.org

[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2006 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.]