By Jessica Vician
Promoting parent engagement seems like a natural effort for school districts. After all, research suggests that when parent take an active role in their child’s education, schools see greater student performance, regular attendance, and the students develop strong social skills. Thanks to many district-sponsored parent engagement programs, these students have a better opportunity to achieve more in school and in life.
But some parents are weary of school efforts that step outside of the classroom and into the home. In these parents’ minds, the home is their “turf” and the school doesn’t have the right to tell them how to parent their children.
According to Dr. Becky Adams, a retired educator who is helping to revitalize the South Suburban Action Conference (SSAC) in Chicago’s south suburbs, it’s difficult to reach “parents who did not experience success in school…and therefore have little trust in the system.”
So how can schools reach these parents, who might need the help of a parent engagement program most of all? If parents don’t trust the school, they are unlikely to participate in any kind of school-sponsored program.
Thankfully there are still options to reach these parents. Schools can partner with community or faith-based organizations like SSAC, a community service association that recently organized a conference on “Powerful Parent Empowerment.” More parents attended than there were supplies for, thanks to the important topic and the parents’ interest in it.
While a school could host a similar event, if the community is comprised primarily of parents with little trust in the system, the attendance would be dismal. SSAC understood its community and presented an opportunity for these parents to hear about relevant parenting topics, such as:
- Preparing for the first day of school
- How to teach your child self-esteem
- How to cope when your child shares upsetting information
- YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher philosophy
After the event, Dr. Adams said, “the parents were thirsty for an opportunity to have their voices heard rather than people telling them what to do.”
It’s encouraging to know that even when schools can’t directly reach parents, by partnering with a community organization that is well-trusted amongst them, the school can indirectly get the message to parents. In turn, the students benefit from increased parent engagement at home.
While many school districts find great success in delivering the YOU Program directly to parents at the school, others partner with these community organizations to reach a broader audience. If a district needs to use Title I funding to satisfy parental involvement goals, partnering with a Head Start program could benefit the greater community, as the YOU program also meets Head Start parent engagement outcome funding requirements. If a district has a religious community where many events are held at the church, the district could partner with that church to offer a parent engagement program to worshippers.
Schools have made tremendous progress over the years to improve home-school communication and involve parents in their children’s education. But schools must find ways to reach parents who are distrusting of the system because of their poor experience many years ago. As demonstrated by the interest in the SSAC event, partnering with community organizations may be the answer.