Friday, April 20, 2007

The capacity of parents

Call me biased, but I think our After-School Academy (ASA) is nothing short of amazing. We have four parents who completely and totally run the program.

They have expounded on the fundraiser idea to the tune of figuring out activities that raise around $120 each month. They help other parents access school and community resources. They provide a support system for each other--pooling rides to the grocery store (whoever has a car at the time), watching each others' kids, encouraging/pestering each other to get in shape and join the "walking group" they've created, and so many other things that I keep randomly finding out.

Yet, I still sense a strong resistance to parents by teachers, schools, and organizations.

At a recent workshop I attended, the presenters explained the "National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement" according to the PTA (Parent Teachers Association):

  • Communication. Communication between home and school is regular, two-way, and meaningful.
  • Parenting. Parenting skills are promoted and supported.
  • Student learning. Parents play an integral role in student learning.
  • Volunteering. Parents are welcome in school and their assistance and support are sought.
  • Decision-Making & Advocacy. Parents are full partners into the decisions that affect children and families.
  • Community Collaboration. Community resources are used to strengthen schools, families, and student learning.
As I listened to the workshop participants, I heard things like,
"Parents aren't involved because they work."
"Parents don't try to get to know what's going on in their child's life."
"Parents are intimidated by the schools."
"Research tells us that engaged parents have the most successful kids."
"We need to educate parents."
Nearly every person in the room commented in frustration, "We don't have parental involvement!"

#1...I think there is a big difference in "parental involvement" and "parental engagement." #2...Having parents staff our program meets every one of the PTA standards.

Hiring parents as staff can take a lot of time and effort; the parents I know are not college graduate educators. However, hiring parents helps us (and could help others) meet the PTA standards with less time, money, and resources.

1) Parents are employed by the ASA so they don't have to spend 8 hours/day at another job and then come to the ASA for yet another hour-long parent meeting. (Most of our parents are single parents. Although several come, our parents are trying to get home after work and get their kids in bed.)
2) Parents engage with each they naturally spread the word about information.
3) Part of the staff's job is to get involved with the school, get to know the teachers, and gain an understanding of some of the school structures.
4) We bring in professional educators to train our staff...and thus pass along valuable information of how they can work with their children in effective ways--in academics, discipline, etc.
5) Parents go above and beyond. They work way more than their allotted hours because these are their kids!
6) Parents know what resources are available. Organizations don't always communicate well with each other. But because community residents are the target audience of every organization, they hear about all of the different programs that go on. With that information, parents can help us decide if we need to provide transportation, provide a new service, start a walking club, or whatever else they decide.

The parents I know want to know how to help their child! But time, "educationalese," and often the school's unwillingness to hear their voice, prevents them from knowing how to adequately work with their child.

Allow me to propose...Instead of recruiting from outside of the community to bring someone in to teach the kids and parents inside the community, why don't we use our natural resources and hire parents instead??
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