Sunday, October 01, 2000

Schools seek parents' involvement

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Rebecca Stewart held her second-grade daughter Cindy Cummins on her lap as they listened to teacher Sarah McGowan talk about homework and classroom rules.

        High expectations.

        That's what the Oyler School teacher has for her students.

        “If ever we have a problem and you don't respond, it'll be Saturday school,” Ms. McGowan told the classroom of parents and students at the Lower Price Hill school's open house as the school year began. “I'm a strict teacher, and I will make your children work. I can promise you I will give them the best education I can.”

        High expectations.

        That's what parents such as Ms. Stewart have for those who teach their children.

        Ms. Stewart hopes Ms. McGowan can get Cindy excited about reading this year.

        “She doesn't like to read, and I know that reading is what helps you do well in other subjects,” Ms. Stewart said. “I really want to push her on that.”

        High expectations.

        That's what is bringing thousands of parents to open houses at schools throughout the Tristate. Schools use the events to make the point: We need you.

        When parents are involved, students achieve more, regardless of social,

        economic, ethnic or racial background, says the National PTA. The best way to predict student achievement, according to the 6.5 million-member organization, is the extent to which the student's family encourages learning, communicates high, yet reasonable, expectations and is involved in thechild's school and community.

        “I love having this many parents in the building. I want them to feel welcome,” said Linda Klembara, principal of Donald E. Cline Elementary School in Cold Spring, at her school's recent open house. . “This is their building. This is their most valued treasure — their children. And they send them to us every day. That takes a lot of trust.”

        From discipline to class size, homework to testing, parents come to open house with lots of questions, often focusing on the basics:

        Is Junior doing OK? Is he behaving? Is he learning?

        Parents are seeking reassurance. Schools are seeking parental buy-in.

        Parents meet teachers, explore classrooms and walk the halls where their children spend their days.

        “It's a way to get parents to come in in a more casual situation than a formal setting such as a conference,” said Marci Brueggen, a board member for the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

        “They just want to hold their kiddos' hands, look at what they're doing, read from their book and share in the pride their kids have in their schools.”

        The agenda is basic: Schools provide parents with policies and procedures, introductions and course outlines.

        It's not the time to discuss a child's individual performance — save that for conferences.

        It is a crash course in School 101.

        “You want to know what they're learning in class,” said Gretchen Crigler, mother of a Cline first-grader Jason. “It helps to know what their curriculum is, what direction (the teacher) is going.”

        Six of Cathy West's eight children attend Oyler. She was one of more than 300 parents and students at the school's open house. She wants to see her eldest son, eighth-grader Chad, improve his attitude about school. She wants her kindergartner to learn discipline.

        “There are different perspectives with each (of my children),” Mrs. West said. “The school is like a part of our family. ... I want to be sure that all of mine are minding their teachers and doing their work.”

        At Oyler, teachers make a point to get parents involved. Hallway tables held information on the school's parent center, and about after-school programs as well as voter registration.

        Antoinette Jackson said the relationship between parents and teachers at Oyler is “teamwork.”

        “I want to make sure that if things get out of line I know about it, but the teachers here work with you,” said Ms. Jackson, whose daughter, Toddmika, is in the eighth grade.

        At parents' night, Oyler Principal Donald Bearghman encouraged parents to read to their children and check their homework. Assistant Principal Craig Hockenberry explained discipline, including in-school suspension and a work detail.

        “Our goal is to keep the kids in school and we have ways now to keep them here,” Mr. Hockenberry said.

        At an open house for parents of freshmen at Campbell County High School, teachers gave overviews of what students would be studying, what type of homework they would get and what materials they would need.

        But the evening didn't have quite the warm and fuzzy feel of that at the elementary school.

        “We are not here to play. We're here to learn,” Vice Principal Gregg Suhr said to more than 100 parents and students. “This is not a place where you want to do the wrong thing. ... This isn't middle school.”

        The evening, aimed at helping freshmen make the transition from middle to high school, focused on grades, discipline and attendance.

        Students have homework every night — they have to study. High school is a full-time job, teachers said repeatedly.

        “I make one simple request from your freshmen,” said Principal Stephen Sorrell, “give me your best and nothing less.”

        As a reality check, educators recited the previous year's failure rate and urged parents to keep kids focused on studies and responsibility.

        “Parents want to know what we're doing to prepare their kids for the real world,” Mr. Sorrell said.

        Marianne Scharfenberger said it was helpful to hear what her 14-year-old daughter Heather will be studying so she will know what to expect in her backpack every afternoon.

        Plus, she wanted to make sure Heather is taking the right courses and meeting the school's expectations.

        “I just want to know that she's starting out right,” Ms. Scharfenberger said. “They're at that age where they don't want you involved, but you've got to be.”

        Enquirer reporter Andrea Tortora contributed to this article.


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