Designing Effective Parent-Community Involvement in Schools . 3rd Annual International Seminar on Partnerships in Education Salvador, Brazil by Dr. Terry Peterson Terry is the Director of the Afterschool and Community Learning Resource Network, which is an International grant project funded by the Mott Foundation. He is also a Senior Fellow at The University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.
We educate our children in families, schools, and communities. Clearly, education partnerships are the 21 st Century Solution
“ Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” -- James Baldwin
Different sectors of the community that can help our children learn and stay safe: Employers University and high school students Faith-based organizations Cultural institutions Senior citizens
Employers Encourage and make it easier for employees to be involved as tutors and mentors, and bring students to the businesses for “job shadowing” The relationship between learning and future employment is emphasized.
Example One chamber of commerce in a city encouraged all their employer members to invite their employees to volunteer one hour a week in a local school on their own time, then the employer would pay for one additional hour to be a volunteer every two weeks.
University and high school students When college students link up with local elementary and secondary schools to help younger students with the improvement of skills a powerful message is sent about why it is important to keep on learning.
Example In Los Angeles, high school students, with teacher guidance, help recruit, train, and manage a tutoring program for elementary students. The program is called Literacy Loop.
Faith-based organizations Can reach out to and help parents, teachers, and principals work together. A powerful message about the importance of community collaboration in education is sent.
Cultural institutions Bring the excitement of art and music to the in-school and after school experiences. Art and music deliver a powerful message about the importance of creativity in learning.
Senior citizens Can be used to teach some of their crafts and oral history…as well as become loving tutors and mentors. Powerful connections between generations can be made.
Example In a rural area in the Appalachian region of the United States, a group of senior citizens are working with a group of middle school children to write and perform traditional mountain music on instruments they build together.
A final critical partnership to focus on: Family-School Partnerships
A very important and recent synthesis of over 50 research studies was released by the Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools. The findings are summarized in a publication called “ A New Wave of Evidence – The Impact of School, Family and Community Connection on Student Achievement .”
A New Wave of Evidence - Students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, were more likely to:
Earn higher grades and test scores
Be promoted and pass their classes
Attend school regularly
Have better social skills and improved behavior
Certain special efforts by schools seem to payoff in greater parent involvement.
Teacher outreach – i.e. meeting face to face with parents, sending materials home for parents to use, and keeping in touch about student progress. Workshops for parents on helping their children at home increased student reading and math skills.
Schools that succeed in engaging families from diverse backgrounds share these three practices:
Build trusting collaborative relationships among teachers, families, and community members.
Recognize, and address families’ needs, as well as class and cultural differences
“ The more people participate in the process of their own education …the more people participate in the development of their selves. The more people become themselves, the better the democracy.” -- Paulo Freire
Embrace a philosophy of partnership where power and responsibility are shared.
There is a newer type of engagement that is openly focused on building low-income families’ power and political skills to improve learning opportunities.
Community organizing contributed to a number of changes:
Upgraded school facilities
Improved school leadership and staffing
New resources and programs to improve teaching and curriculum
New funding for after-school programs
How can you put these all of these findings into action?
Recognize that all parents- regardless of income and education – are involved in their children’s learning and want their children to do well.
Design programs that will support families to guide their children’s learning from preschool to high school. Develop the capacity of school staff to work with families.
Link efforts to engage families, whether based at school or in the community, to student learning. Build families’ social and political connections.
Focus efforts to engage families and community members on developing trusting and respectful relationships. Embrace a philosophy of partnership where power and responsibility are shared.
If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people. --Chinese proverb
Build strong connections between school and community organizations.
Building family-school partnerships is not easy and takes time, but, in the long run, is a powerful way to create better students, better schools, and better communities.
“ I slept and dreamt…that life was a joy . I awoke and found…that life was duty. I acted and behold…duty was joy.” - Tagore, Indian poet