Dr. James P. Comer is a professor of child psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center and has been a Yale medical faculty member since 1968. He is also the founder of Comer School Development Program. Years ago, I cut out an excerpt from a speech he delivered. His words still ring true today:
When our youngsters were in elementary school, we lived in a community that greatly valued education. When we went to an open house, we had to go very early or we couldn't find a parking place. It was just packed. When we went to an open house in middle school, we didn't have to go early because there were plenty of spaces. When we went to the high school open house, there was an empty parking lot. At their point of greatest need in our complex society, we abandon our children.
In recent years, one of the greatest challenges faced by school districts is how to get parents to play an active role in their child's academic performance and attendance. Districts hire parental involvement specialists who work diligently to involve parents by offering seminars and conferences and encouraging them to volunteer in our schools.
For 28 years, I have been on the education side of parental involvement and have felt the frustration, increasing at a rapid pace in recent years, over parents who allow their children to miss countless days of school and who do not have high expectations for their children's academic performance. I have also had the privilege of speaking to top-notch parents, the ones who have firm consequences for their children if they skip a class or fail and who praise them when they work to their potential. Fortunately, I've spoken to several in the top-notch group this school year and always find myself wishing every child could be blessed with such parents.
I have never been on the parent side of the success equation. Recently I received an email from an involved parent. He wrote, "Research demonstrates that family engagement in a child's education increases student achievement, improves attendance, and reduces dropout rates." Educators can confirm this research.
This parent referred to an Association of Texas Professional Educators document that shared award-winning educators' tips for cultivating parental involvement. He quoted one of the tips: The key to parental involvement is really quite simple: You must establish a positive relationship first. One thing I have definitely learned over the years is that we must establish lines without drawing lines in the sand. A school cannot be a free-for-all (especially in today's schools where higher security is crucial) and yet it should be a place where parents feel welcome to volunteer within established guidelines.
He shared with me two proposed federal bills pertaining to family engagement that may be of interest to readers. One is H.R. 1821/S.941, The Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011, and the other is H.R. 2637, the Developing Innovative Partnerships and Learning Opportunities that Motivate Achievement Act, shortened to the DIPLOMA Act. Both have been referred to committees. To learn more, you can follow the links to read the summaries and check on the current status of each.
It's refreshing to know there are still parents who want to play a partnership role with our schools. Our students, their parents and educators. What better partners for success?
Chris Ardis is in her 28th year of teaching, 27 of those in McAllen ISD. She is also a freelance writer. Chris is involved with a grassroots movement to transform public education called SOAR McAllen, which you can find on Facebook. You can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.