Feature

Get Involved

Being involved with your kids' school starts at home – no bake sale required

If you want to help your children do better as students, get involved in their school.

But before you take this as another “you should” parenting lecture, hear us out: An abundance of research has shown that family and parental involvement in their kids’ school helps students perform better.

In its publication, A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement, the National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools reviewed more than 50 recent studies on family engagement and schools and found that the data is clear: parental involvement in school has a positive influence on student achievement at all ages.

Now for many of us, the words “parental involvement” and “school” conjure up visions of Parent Teacher Organization meetings and chaperoning field trips, which for many parents may be unfeasible because of full work and home lives. But involvement in your children’s education can happen on many levels — no bake sale required.

Parent involvement in school can be divided into four basic categories: discussing school activities with your child, monitoring his or her out-of-school activities, contacting school staff, and volunteering and attending school events including conferences and open houses. And most of the research agrees: Parental involvement in school starts at home.

At home

Ann Pilzner, head of school of The Montessori School in Kalamazoo and Richland, says that being involved with your children’s school sends them a big message.

“Children need to understand that education is important, and when they see their parents engaged at their school, it tells them that their parents view education as important, too,” Pilzner says.

The easiest way to get involved is simply by discussing school activities with your children daily, including what subjects they are learning in class and their assignments, checking their homework and even reading to them, all of which have very positive impacts. Researchers Esther Ho Sui-Chu and Douglas Willms found that of the many different ways parents and families can be involved in their kids’ education, involvement at home has the greatest effect on student achievement.

Schools will often help facilitate family involvement at home. For example, Kalamazoo Public Schools provides resources, information and programs to enhance at-home involvement efforts, according to Dodie Raycraft, director of school improvement, Title 1 and assessments at KPS.

“Involvement at school expands to the home environment and we work to support parents and find out in what ways they need support,” Raycraft says. “We are finding ways to expand the opportunities for kids to learn outside of school in order to reinforce the learning within the school day. Our Lift Up Through Literacy program teaches hands-on literacy skills to parents and children that they can use at home. We make sure all first graders visit the Kalamazoo Public Library and receive library cards so they can visit the library year-round. And many of our schools send home activity packs or books for the summer.”

Communication is key

Active, ongoing communication between families and schools is pivotal in facilitating parental and family involvement, say both Raycraft and Pilzner. When families are informed about what’s going in their children’s classrooms, it is that much easier for them to engage with their child about school.

Schools employ many methods to provide information to parents. From weekly newsletters and websites to Facebook pages, voicemail messages and text messages, schools can keep parents apprised of everything from upcoming school events to homework assignments and testing schedules.

The Montessori School also has parent liaisons for each class, says Pilzner, who help teachers spread the word to their students’ parents about what is happening in class and how they can become involved.

It is also important that parents know how to contact and feel comfortable contacting the staff and teachers at their children’s schools. Research has shown that positive parent–teacher relationships contribute to children’s academic success. One of the best ways for parents to establish this contact is to attend a school’s open house to meet the teachers and then follow up by attending parent–teacher conferences, even as students get older. Not only do the conferences allow families to learn about their student’s progress, but they also allow parents to provide teachers with valuable feedback on the student, such as his or her academic and social development, that they might not otherwise know.

Building community

A key element to foster family involvement in schools is to make families feel that they are part of a community, say Raycraft.

Raycraft says KPS works on building relationships with families and establishing a sense of community at its schools so that families feel welcome.

“Many times families are cautious about going to a school for an open house or other activity, because they had a negative school experience themselves,” says Raycraft. “Our schools are working on building relationships with these families so they are more comfortable. Open houses and programs like Literacy Night and community dinners help these families to have a positive experience in the school. It creates a whole sense of belonging for them and helps them see the important role they can play in their children’s education.”

Starting now

As the school year begins, Raycraft suggests families begin their involvement efforts by attending their children’s school open houses and reading the communication that is mailed to them from school principals. Both of these provide a wealth of information on opportunities for involvement as well as programs and resources for families.

“It gives information that helps set the year up for you,” she says.

Pilzner says that helping to enhance kids’ learning outside the classroom is also key. “The best thing a parent can do is show children that learning is fun and provide opportunities for them to engage in learning in different environments, like going to a library or a park,” she says.

Finally, for families who have the time and want to be more involved, there are ample volunteer opportunities at the schools. Parent Teacher Organizations, which are run by parent volunteers, engage in a number of activities that support their schools. There are School Improvement Teams and committees where parents can provide input on ways to improve schools. In addition, many teachers have a long list of needs that families can fill. And rest assured, teachers are looking for some help: A 2014 survey of 1,000 K–12 teachers found that 97 percent of them welcomed parental involvement.

How to be involved

Here are some simple suggestions to become involved in your children’s school:

• Stress to your children the importance of school and being responsible for schoolwork, and reinforce it by setting up a quiet place at home for them to work on homework and assignments.

• Take advantage of the learning technologies available for schoolwork outside the classroom, such as Compass Learning, a program that allows students to practice math skills. Participate with your child, so he or she can see it as a fun learning experience.

• Sign up for the text alerts, Facebook posts and email newsletters from your children’s school and teachers.

• Pay attention to your child’s progress reports when they are sent home and set aside time to discuss the reports together.

• Take advantage of online grade reporting systems — such as KPS’ Home Access Center — and check it weekly to know the status of your student’s assignments, homework and progress in each class.

• Read to and with your kids daily and visit libraries throughout the year, especially during the summer.

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