Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 6, 2013

Stanczykiewicz: Getting parents involved at school

By Bill Stanczykiewicz
Guest columnist

— Since the research is clear and the results are obvious, why aren’t more parents involved at school? The simple question has a complex answer.

The research is conclusive. High levels of parental engagement lead to high levels of academic achievement. In fact, the power of parental involvement is so strong that according to the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) gains in school success occur regardless of parental income or a parent’s level of academic attainment.

Eighty-seven percent of parents attend meetings at school, a 13 percent increase since 1996. However, a national survey of teachers found that “lack of parental support” is the top challenge for schools.

Why aren’t more parents involved?

“A lot of parents don’t know, and they don’t know how to say, ‘I don’t know,’” explained Dennis Bland, executive director of the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), an Indianapolis community organization teaching study and postsecondary readiness skills to low-income students and their families. Bland said many parents – especially those who did succeed in school – need encouragement to speak up, ask questions and advocate for their student.

Meanwhile, some experts say educators need help translating to parents. According to Ron Mirr, president of the Center for Active Family Engagement, “What (the educators) see makes sense to them. They understand the jargon. But what is it like for the parent who has not been in the school?”

Mirr’s Family Engagement Assessment – which surveys parents, teachers and administrators – now is being implemented in Hoosier schools by the Indiana Partnerships Center. Executive director Jackie Garvey asserted, “Unless you ask families, you’re not going to know (how to get them involved).”

Recommendations include asking involved parents to invite their neighbors to become active at school and conducting “back to school” walks through the community to meet parents and encourage their participation. The PTA also suggests creating a family resource center in the school where parents can access computers.

The PTA encourages schools to host workshops on parenting skills, including how parents can support school work at home. Educators should contact parents with positive news about their children instead of only communicating bad news, and spring orientation sessions can help parents start preparing for the next school year.

Under a new state law, school districts can volunteer to be assessed by the Indiana Department of Education (DOE) to evaluate parental involvement strategies. The DOE also can designate a school as an “Indiana Family Friendly School.”

The research summarized by SEDL reveals that successful parent engagement efforts build trusting, collaborative relationships between parents and educators, recognize and address family needs and embrace a philosophy of partnership.

Or as Dennis Bland stated succinctly, “Show them how much you care.”

Bill Stanczykiewicz is President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at iyi@iyi.org and on Twitter @_billstan.