Parents In Public Schools: How to Make the Most of Parent Involvement
Schools across metro Atlanta are finding innovative ways for parents to be involved, in addition to the traditional in-school volunteering. In Part Two of our series Parents In Public Schools, we spotlight some successful efforts in elementary, middle and high schools.
(See Part 1: Why Georgia Needs More Parent Involvement In Public Schools)

How to Make the Most of Parent Involvement in the Schools

By Gwen Morrison

Busy parents hear the words “parent involvement,” and immediately think they have to be present in the school during school hours to make a difference. Not so, say educators and parents across metro
Atlanta who have found non-traditional ways for parents to be involved in education.

Learn more...

  • 8 ways that parents, teachers & community members can work together to improve education

  • Why Dads’ Involvement is Vital
  • With Georgia’s public education system continuing to lag behind most of the rest of the nation, the time couldn’t be better to develop new opportunities for parents to become invested in their children’s schools. Georgia’s 2002 SAT scores were the lowest of all 50 states, and currently, 42 percent of state schools are labeled as not showing Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) based on the federal No Child Left Behind law, which measures school improvement through standardized tests taken each year.

    As state education officials struggle to develop and implement a new core curriculum and other measures intended to lift Georgia out of the cellar, many schools and their PTAs are moving aggressively forward with a strategy that has been proven to increase children’s academic success: parent involvement.

    According to a report from the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the National Coalition for Parental Involvement in Education (NCPIE), when parents are actively involved in their child’s education, that child consistently has higher grades, better attendance and is more likely to have a positive attitude toward school. When parents put a higher value on education, children do the same.

    While most parents believe their involvement increases their child’s potential for success, finding the time to take part in school activities is a challenge. However, even the busiest parent can usually find time to be involved if she expands the definition of involvement. Educators encourage parents to match their talents to the needs of the school. For example:

    • If you are a great typist, ask the administrator if there is material you can type up for them at home.

    • Got a green thumb? Use your gardening talents to pull weeds or help plant a garden on school grounds.

    • Parents are always needed to make phone calls for various school programs or PTA initiatives. That’s something you could even do on your lunch break.

    • School dances are usually held in the evenings, and chaperoning your child’s school dance is a fun way to help out.

    Carol Ranft, co-president of the McKendree Elementary PTA in Lawrenceville, encourages busy parents to find out what they can do to help their child’s school and teachers. “Even if parents can’t get to the school to volunteer, there are things that can be done at home. Many teachers will send projects home (like cutting, pasting) for parents to complete,” says Ranft.

    In an effort to maximize the myriad of benefits from parental involvement, Woodland Elementary Charter School in Sandy Springs hired a full-time Parent Involvement Coordinator. As reported in Part One of our Parent Involvement series, Maria Applegate’s efforts, along with the consistent support from parents, have catapulted the school’s family involvement rate to 98 percent. A key to her success has been creating non-traditional opportunities.

    “We have work for parents to take home, which we call homework kits,” says Applegate. “Teachers assemble work in a box for parents to pick up on their way to work. The kit includes detailed instructions for the parents to follow, plus all of the materials needed such as construction paper, scissors, staplers, glue sticks etc.”

    Applegate has also included a once-a-month parent involvement day at the school, which she says has been a great success. Woodland Elementary also hosts a new parent breakfast to welcome new families, thus immediately giving them a sense of community so that they feel encouraged to become involved.


    Traditional Involvement Still Key

    While schools are reaching out to busy, working parents for non-traditional ways to become involved, the bread-and-butter of parental involvement is still the in-school effort. Many parents and teachers rely on and find great satisfaction in moms and dads volunteering in the classroom and interacting with students.

    “I go in to help out with the reading program,” says Lisa Alize, mom to Maurice, a second-grader at Freeman’s Mill Elementary in Dacula. “I quiz the kids on what they have read to see how much they absorbed, and they get little prizes. It’s fun, but the best thing about it is the smile on Maurice’s face when I walk through that door. He grabs my hand and I can tell he is so thrilled to see me there. He looks forward to those days when I am available to help out in his classroom.”

    Another mom who cherishes her time at her child’s school is Terrika Walker, a Woodland Elementary parent. “Being at Woodland, helping and encouraging students, spending time with the faculty and staff has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” says Walker. “I’m at the school just about every day. The staff keeps telling me I need to be put on salary.”

    To establish a more personal connection between you and your child’s teachers, the National Education Association offers these other tips for parent involvement:

    Meet the teacher. Tell him or her about your child’s interests and hobbies, and how and when it is best to reach you. Ask how you can support your child’s learning at home.

    Set a date with the teacher to visit your child’s classroom. Are the kids busy learning, exploring and asking questions? Does the teacher draw them in?

    Go to parent-teacher conferences. Or simply request a meeting with your child’s teachers. Ask how your child is doing and review his work.

    Join the PTA or other parent group. Go to school events, such as open houses or curriculum nights. As a group, see how you can help the school reach its goals.

    Stay up-to-date on school policies, schedules and rules. Ask about opportunities to participate in the development of school policies. Some schools have a committee of parents, teachers, the principal and sometimes people from the community to deal with various issues.

    Make sure that your child is learning what she needs to know to meet the standards set for her grade level. Find a teacher or counselor you feel comfortable talking to about your child. Talk about the courses she should take to reach her goals. Do they match what the standards say she should be learning? Will they prepare her for college and a career?


    Upper Grades Need Parents, Too

    The importance of family involvement doesn’t stop after children leave elementary school, although many middle and high schools report a drop in parent involvement once kids reach these grade levels. Middle- and high-school students need to know that parents and educators are still focused on these students’ academic success. Parents will always play a huge role in modeling that reality.

    Crabapple Middle School in Roswell thrives on the level of parent involvement we enjoy each year,” says Kimothy Jarrett, principal at Crabapple Middle School in Fulton County.

    ”From re-shelving books in the media center to chaperoning overnight field trip experiences, and everything in between, our parents make it possible for us to provide a level of support to teachers and students that enhances the overall learning environment,” Jarrett says.

    Crabapple Middle School has earned the Fulton County School system’s Golden Apple Award annually for the number of volunteer hours accrued in school service.

    Being involved in middle or high school may look different than what parents are accustomed to in the elementary school – but there are still many ways to be involved. If the school doesn’t have a set plan for involvement, families need to take the initiative and find out where they can help at home and at school.

    l style="mso-layout-grid-align: none">“Parental involvement in middle school is essential to the adolescents’ future success,” says Gail Jover, a teacher at Creekland Middle School in Lawrenceville. “Although parents may not be as involved physically in the classroom, there are many ways of showing that education is important to you. Become involved in school activities, such as PTA functions; become a volunteer in the media center; help chaperone a field trip or even eat lunch with your child. In the classroom, parents can assist teachers with tutoring or clerical work.”

    l style="mso-layout-grid-align: none">Jover points out that all parents of middle schoolers, but especially those who are working, can demonstrate the importance of education by showing interest in their adolescent’s schoolwork, checking the student’s agendas daily, reviewing homework and other work the student may have had that day.

    l style="mso-layout-grid-align: none">“Most important of all is to ask questions about school and set up a non-threatening, daily ‘chat time’ to discuss what went on at school that day,” she says. “Seeking knowledge about the normal age-appropriate changes of adolescence is another way to be involved and to understand the many biological, emotional and mental changes that middle schoolers go through. Most media centers have a Parent’s Resource Center in which a variety of literature is available for check-out.”

    l style="mso-layout-grid-align: none">Laura Stowell of Atlanta taught middle and high school for eight years in three different states and believes that many teachers and administrators at that level don’t know what to do with their parents. “It’s a challenge for upper schools to find productive ways to incorporate parents in learning,” she says. But it can be done. Stowell lists booster clubs for extracurricular activities, mentoring programs, administrative assistance, special project work like landscaping and help with social events as some ideas for parent involvement.

    While parents find it more difficult to become involved in their child’s middle school, high school presents an even bigger challenge. Dawn Small, PTSA president at North Springs High School in Atlanta, tells freshman parents that high school is the beginning of the end. “These years are so important for the child, with all the changes they are going through. If a parent has never been involved, I tell them that this is the time to jump in,” she says.

    Most parents believe that when their child reaches high school, they aren’t needed for educational involvement anymore. But they are – by both their child and the high school.

    “This year at North Springs, I added a position to the board – Volunteering Services,” says Small. “On our Web site, there is a listing all the opportunities to be involved in for the entire year. Parents check off where they can help, for how long, print it and bring it to the school.”

    The form is a great way to promote involvement and it offers busy parents the opportunity of signing up for a one-time activity, such as chaperoning a dance or helping out at an event.

    To encourage repeat volunteering, Small says it’s important to express appreciation. “We make a point of sending out thank you e-mails or setting up special things for our parents so that they know how much we appreciate them.”


    Bridging the Multicultural Gap

    More than 30 years of studies indicate that involved parents equal successful children – regardless of income, education or race. The Atlanta-area is home to a diverse group of families – many of whom don’t understand the communication being sent home to them from school. Especially in the metro area, the challenges that face non-English speaking families must be recognized to create a plan ensuring that all families are given the opportunity to contribute to their child’s education.

    “There are lots of different languages and cultures represented here at McKendree,” Ranft says of her elementary school in Lawrenceville. “There are ways to help ease the language/culture barriers that obviously exist. One of the best things we can do is to identify parents that are bilingual. They can help translate important information, like handbooks, policies and conference information. And they are often looking for an opportunity to help. Another suggestion would be to plan events that embrace the different cultures represented at school.”

    Last year, McKendree held its first annual Passport to the World Cultural Festival. “Including the many cultures from our school helped bring out more than 600 attendees and made the festival a great success.” says Ranft. Volunteers have already eagerly signed up to help with the next festival.

    Ranft and other metro Atlanta school and PTA leaders agree that parental involvement programs are successful when a combination of traditional opportunities – such as reading to students in the classroom – and innovative opportunities, such as McKendree’s cultural festival, are offered to parents.

     “It takes a creative PTA and school, combined with parents willing to try something new, to establish strong parental involvement programs, says Ranft. “New ideas are what it’s all about.”

    Return to : Parents In Public Schools:
    Parents in Public Schools: Part 1

    Gwen Morrison is a freelance writer and mother of three from Lawrenceville.
    From Our Kids Atlanta, A United Parenting Publication, December 2003.