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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Making Points for Parent Involvement: Getting Folks to Get Involved

Parent involvement plays a vital role in a child's ability and eagerness to learn. Here are four case studies of schools that have found creative ways to get parents engaged.
By Edutopia Staff
Credit: Max Seabaugh

Emma E. Booker Elementary School, Sarasaota, Florida

On any given day, dozens of parents and other family members can be found at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, assisting in classrooms, meeting with service providers, or helping with special events. The school's unusually high level of family involvement is credited to the School Development Program (SDP).

SDP, developed by Dr. James Comer and the Yale Child Study Center, is designed to overcome the mistrust and misunderstanding often found between families and educators in inner city schools. The effort to build these relationships starts right at the top: Parents help set the school's direction as members of a Planning and Management team whose composition reflects the school's multiracial community.

Booker Elementary, which serves 820 students, has been using the SDP approach since it opened in 1990. To encourage readiness for school and early parental involvement, Booker identifies children as young as two who need extra help and could benefit from its pre-K programs. After kindergarten, students stay with the same set of teachers for three years in multi-age groups that allow greater familiarity between parents, teachers, and children. Families are continually invited to the school to see their children take part in monthly schoolwide presentations, to recognize student achievement, and for school and social functions.

This welcoming atmosphere makes it easier for Booker to stress another Comer concept: serving the needs of the child by serving the family. To support families and help them better provide for their children, twenty-seven agencies provide services on-site, including a computer training program, a variety of health care programs, and a literacy program to develop parents' reading and writing skills. The sum of all this family involvement is clear to parent Connie Ruby: "My kids feel special here because everyone knows who I am."

Maplewood K-8 School, Edmonds, Washington

Parents who choose to enroll their children at Maplewood K-8 School in Edmonds, Washington, agree to give 90 hours each year, mostly in teaching roles under the guidance of a classroom teacher.

Under the Parent Cooperative Education Program (PCEP), each school year begins with a meeting between the teacher and a parent room coordinator to determine how parents will be a part of curriculum planning and implementation. Working with the classroom teacher, parents select lessons that best suit their skills.

These lessons, called "rotations," take place in the core academic areas as well as elective areas, such as foreign language, art, and advanced science. Groups of six to eight students spend part of their day moving from one rotation to another. "With these rotations, students get the individual attention they need," says Laurie Gerlach, a parent who serves as public relations coordinator at the 470-student school.

Many area employers have agreed to flexible schedules to allow parents to participate in the school. When parents have a scheduling conflict, they can arrange for a substitute parent, sometimes even a grandparent. Those families who are unable to participate in teaching rotations help with activities outside of the classroom, such as organizing assemblies and chaperoning field trips.

Credit: Max Seabaugh

Graham & Parks Alternative Public School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Graham & Parks Alternative Public School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was established in 1972 in response to lobbying by parents who were dissatisfied with traditional educational practices. "We were committed to creating a democratic learning community right from the start," Principal Len Solo says.

For about twenty-five years, parents and teachers have worked collaboratively to operate the school, which has an enrollment of 380 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The result is an educational program that meets the academic, social, and emotional needs of individual students. Instead of traditional classes grouped strictly by age, for instance, students are grouped in multi-age classes where they stay for two years with the same teacher. This permits parents, teachers, and students to develop stronger relationships.

Parents also contribute time and expertise to the school's daily life. They serve as room parents, help produce the school's literary magazine, help set up community service activities, and contribute in a myriad of other ways. "I really enjoy being able to come into school every morning to work with computers and with my sons and other students," says parent Bob Filmore. "They get the idea that parents support them and the school, so they work harder and do better." A full-time parent coordinator reaches out to parents who may be reluctant to become involved. She also conducts orientations and supports volunteers.

Turnbull Learning Academy, San Mateo, California

In searching for a way to make parent involvement more effective, educators at Turnbull Learning Academy decided to develop a list of the most critical activities that parents should do. Then they assigned points to each activity, which range from helping children track assignments to volunteering at school. Finally, they asked families who choose to enroll their children in the school to commit to earning eighteen points worth of school-involvement credits each month to support their children's learning.

"Parents won't participate in schools just to participate. They'll do it to help their children perform better academically," says Co-principal Barbara Adams.

Turnbull, a magnet school in San Mateo, California, adopted its emphasis on family involvement in 1993 in conjunction with a redesign of its buildings and educational programs. Teachers have noticed that reading skills improve more quickly when students can count on active family involvement. The regular presence of parents at this 300-student school has also created a stronger sense of community.

"Naturally, when parents gather the talk turns to how their kids are doing in school and how they can help one another," says J.B. Tengco, the liaison for Partners in Innovation, an organization that helps Turnbull with its community programs. Parents formed a group to trade services like babysitting, mechanical work, and translation help so they can spend more time helping their children learn.

Editor's Note: Turnbull Learning Academy was transformed into College Park Elementary School since this article was written in 1997.

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