George Lucas Educational Foundation

Getting Parents Involved Is the Foundation of Student Success

When Mom and Dad come to class, kids do better.
By Michael Seville
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Most educators agree that parental involvement is a key ingredient in how well a student learns. A small school in the Silicon Valley town of Saratoga, California, has taken this truism and run with it. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School (named after the schoolteacher killed in the Challenger shuttle disaster) has a program that not only encourages parents to be active members in their children's education but also requires it.

Parents with kids at McAuliffe are expected to spend two roughly ninety-minute sessions (three if they have two children) every week in their children's classrooms. And they don't simply drop in. Rather, they are initially required to attend a seven-session STEP (Systemic Training for Effective Parenting) class, designed to help increase their usefulness when they do appear in class. That usefulness goes well beyond simply being teachers' adjuncts.

"Our parents are not just aides in the back of the classroom," says McAuliffe principal Michael Kalb. "We recognize that parents are a child's first teacher and extend this notion into the classroom. Parents lead lessons based on their own personal expertise or interests." Doctors, for instance, may use experiences in their daily work to teach biology. Architects might hold forth on graphic design, or bring real-life examples to a geometry class.

But for busy parents, no matter how enthusiastic they may be about the school, even one morning a week is a significant commitment. Some parents react enthusiastically; others struggle to find even one morning or evening a month when they can come in. So five months seems a reasonable period for the launch.

Even though Saratoga is located in a famously affluent area where many successful firms like Apple and Hewlett-Packard have adopted an enlightened attitude about accommodating employees' lives, work hours tend to be long and business travel frequent. Not everyone who wants to meet the school's classroom requirement can find enough time. So the program has built-in ways to broaden parental participation.

"People ask how our parents do it," says Kalb. "For instance, what about working single parents? So we are very flexible in coming up with alternatives."

He explains that parents who can't find the time to spend in the classroom work out other ways they can contribute to the overall effort of the program. This might mean something as simple as photocopying for a teacher in the evening or as technical as volunteering after hours to help set up computer systems and take care of software or hardware problems. And then there are field trips, sometimes as many as five a month, when the call goes out for chaperones. At McAuliffe, there are always plenty of volunteers to answer that call, be they parents who have managed to fill their classroom commitment or those looking for other ways to improve their kids' school.

Since McAuliffe is a public elementary school with a level of parental input usually associated with private schools, Kalb admits that not all parents are enthusiastic about the demands put on them, including the STEP course. But he says he's able to get parents excited by emphasizing the success of the students who have moved into higher grades.

"High schools report that our students know how to research and work very well in a group," Kalb said. He attributes this, in part, to the level of expertise and enthusiasm that parents bring to the classroom.

Though a good number of the parents' employers understand the need to make weekly involvement possible, Kalb would like to see a nationwide revolution in educational support. This includes time off for parents so they can work on their children's education.

Kalb feels that an effective program can start off in small increments. Getting parents into the classroom one evening a month, even just to talk to the teacher about the child's strengths and weaknesses, can foster great improvement.

Bringing parents into the school on a regular, required basis can result in better educational policies. Ben Maisel, a longtime teacher at McAuliffe, believes that parents learn as much as their children when they participate at school. "People need to take a hard look at the test-based accountability approach and think about the motivation," he says. "Is this for the advancement of the student, or is it politically motivated?"

He says that if more parents understood how the system worked, and what was required of teachers, more of them would be interested in the policies, both local and national, that affect their children's education.

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guide's picture
Counsellor with a passion to build world class assessments

posted on


Ask yourself a question Is my child making expected progress towards achieving his goals and am I sure about it ?. In many cases the answer would be "I don't know" or "He is doing fine but I am not sure"

Progress report may not provide you specific information based on assessment whether your child is making progress towards his goals or not. You need to evaluate along with your child his strengths and weaknesses and initiate steps to fill the gap in his educational needs and help him achieve his goals

Your personal involvement / interest in your child's education gives him motivation to progress further.

Just ask him what he has studied today. Encourage him to take a 15 minutes self test on each subject or topic taught to him in the school / college / institution today. You and your child will get idea of his present level of performance. (You can get details of his performance for each test taken in the Test History)

Pat him if he has done well. Discuss with him the shortcomings. There could also be areas in the topic that have been not covered in the lessons taught to him. Encourage him to improve next day if he is under performing and initiate a planned action for improvement of his performance and monitor the same for progress

You may not have knowledge of any subject but these five minutes a day will go longway in shaping your child's future

Mario Patiño's picture
Mario Patiño
NBCT, science educator

In the past, I was comfortable working in isolation from the parents of my students. I figured that it was my responsibility to help their child succeed. How naive was I to feel this way? As a high school teacher, I was lucky to get half of my syllabi returned signed by parents or 20% attendance at open house. I figured they did not want to be involved but what I quickly learned was involvement was dependent on my ability to reach out. Partnering with parents is essential in better understanding the needs of your students. It is rare that a student "falls" through the cracks......because there is a group of adults working together toward the same goal.

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