COMMITTED TO EDUCATION
Involvement can start even before the school year
By Tom Roebuck
Copley News Service
As the summer winds down children brace themselves for another school year. But they're not the only ones who should be thinking about returning to the classroom. Parents also have an important role in their children's education, and it includes more than helping with homework. Getting to know the teachers and volunteering to help in the classroom are important parts of the process.
Parents don't even have to wait until their children are old enough to attend school to become involved. If you know which school your children will attend, go ahead and drop by when they open the school to visitors, such as during a carnival, fundraiser or play, advised Carole Levine, deputy executive director of the PTA.
"It can start even before kindergarten," Levine said. "Parents should be welcomed at schools if they know that is the school their child is going to attend. They should be able to connect to the school and be welcomed as the future supporters of their child's education."
Once a child is enrolled, getting involved is as simple as talking to the teacher at the beginning of the school year. Telling the teacher a little about yourself will help determine what role is best for you. If you work, you can come in during career day and talk to the class about what you do, even if you think the children will find your job boring. The trick is to bring visual aids.
"People would be surprised. 'I'm a banker. I sell life insurance. They don't want to hear me,'" said Tracey Bailey, director of education policy for the Association of American Educators and the 1993 National Teacher of the Year. "But I bet you that you could bring in something. An insurance guy could bring in pictures of burned homes or damage from a tornado, then say, 'What I do is I help people rebuild.' Using a parent's real-world experience can make the lessons or subject of that teacher relevant and meaningful."
And while you're there, you might as well take a look around.
"You can ask your child to give you a tour on the day you're volunteering. Especially after everyone's dismissed and teachers have some more time to talk, because they still have to be there doing lesson plans or cleaning up," Bailey said.
He acknowledged that many children won't exactly be jumping up and down at the idea of taking their parents on a tour of the school, but it's worth the effort to visit the library, roam the halls and meet the staff.
"What you're doing is you're showing your kid that you care, but you're also showing that you're involved."
Even if a parent has the most exciting job in the world, they still may be uncomfortable speaking in front of a group of children. There are other roles they can take on to help out.
"Volunteer to help out with things that are important to the school, not just with your child's classroom. If the school is having a meeting about the school's curriculum, offer to make phone calls to other parents. That's huge, because people come to things because they are invited. And most often they come because someone they know invited them. Those are little things. But it also allows the parents to establish themselves as someone who respects the school. It gives them a voice, so when they speak up, or they have a concern, or they want to bring up an issue, they will be listened to," Levine said.
But not all parents can come in during the day. That doesn't mean that their involvement in their child's school has to be limited to dropping them off in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon.
"Involvement with the school isn't always being physically there. You really want to understand what your child is doing while they are there. Which means asking the right questions of both the school staff and the school administrators so you can support your child's learning. And those are questions that can be asked by phone or when you can go to meetings in the early morning or evenings. Then take that home and use that information to really support your child's learning," Levine advised.
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