Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Family engagement helps students achieve

Did you know that students whose parents or guardians are engaged in their education achieve at higher levels?

Research shows that these students traditionally have higher grades and graduation rates, better social skills, behavior and attendance, and a more positive attitude.

Engaging families in support of student achievement is a collective effort among parents, teachers and administrators that starts at home and extends to school and the school community.

Whitman ES Mom and Student “What is important is how much support parents provide at home, whether it’s reading with their child, or going to the school to learn about a-g or Common Core,” said Bea Fernandez, program manager for the district’s Parent Outreach and Engagement Department. “There are a lot of things that parents can do to give their child the message that school is important.”

According to a recent report by EdSource, students whose parents promoted academic achievement at home scored better on academic tests. In addition, parents that were more involved with their child’s education “became aware of homework assignments and tests and were able to reinforce good study habits in the home.”

To help guide parents in working with their children at home, the National, State and Local PTAs offer a variety of materials, including information on literacy, tips for reading with your child and how to make healthy lifestyle choices. They also offer parents guides on Common Core that provide tips on talking to your child’s teacher and how to help your child learn at home.

Encouraging and facilitating parent engagement is a key component of the district’s Vision 2020 and Local Control Accountability Plan to increase overall student achievement. The district works with schools, principals and teachers to facilitate communication with parents and increase engagement across all socio-economic levels for all students.

Through the Parent Outreach and Engagement Department, the district works with school sites to offer more than 90 free classes for parents, including “Destination College,” “Mathematics Today,” “Raising Skilled Readers,” and “Common Core.” Most classes are taught in both English and Spanish.

“Our responsibility is to reach out to families and help build relationships between parents, teachers and school sites,” Fernandez said. “There are great opportunities for parents to get involved, like the workshops and parent advisory groups. But it’s important that parents take the opportunities that are provided by their schools, especially those that are linked to student learning. Picnics and carnivals are great, but the opportunities that are linked to student learning are the opportunities that will impact how their student does in school.”

Whitman Elementary PTA President Celeste Ozaki agrees.

“Parent engagement isn't just about sending the child to school or if the parent attends a school activity, but how active the parent is in the education process, such as homework, meeting with the teacher, attending school meetings, as well as learning and understanding the education process,” Osazki said. “As a PTA leader, I probably take it to the extreme in the level of involvement; however, I have seen a difference when I observe parents just taking their level of engagement beyond just sending their child to school.”

Horton Elementary Principal Nassersa Mitchell says that they engage parents by listening and responding to family needs and personally inviting them to campus.

“Parents asked for more training on Common Core so now we host a monthly workshop,” Mitchell said. “We noticed that we were not getting as many fathers as we would like on campus, so I explicitly reached out to them. Their interest prompted us to start a Dad's Club this year, which now has more than 50 dads attending.

“They were so excited to be targeted in a positive light. Many are supporting our site after hours and are going to start helping after-school clubs with gardening, art, and music.”

The school’s efforts resulted in nearly 90 percent of Horton families attending Open House-Curriculum Night and about 150 parents attending Family Fridays.

Ozaki said that one reason Whitman Elementary has been successful in engaging parents is that staff, teachers and administrators have created an open and friendly school environment. Both the principal and teachers communicate regularly with parents, including one-on-one conversations, which Ozaki feels goes a long way in helping parents understand how much of an impact they truly have on their child’s education.

Creating opportunities for engagement as well as environments in which parents feel comfortable approaching the school is essential to the partnership and to overall student achievement.

“Students’ success depends on the strong working relationship between the school and family for students to grow emotionally, academically, and socially,” Mitchell said. “Relationships are everything. At Horton we strive to build long-term healthy relationships with mutual trust, respect, love and supports with accountability for all of us for the best interest of all students.”