Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Parental help key to success

Involvement aids schools, students

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Thousands of Tristate youngsters will head back to the classroom over the next few weeks. And if their parents are in tow, those students have a better chance at a successful school year.

        Educators and parents alike have long said that parents are critical to students' success. But national research also has proven that when parents are involved, students achieve more. Grades, behavior, attitudes, attendance and graduation rates all improve.

[photo] Tyler Frakes (left), 5, was a bit shy about meeting his first-grade teacher, Jenny Watson, at Yealey Elementary in Florence, so he hid behind his dad, Shawn, who is holding Tyler's brother, Joey, 4.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        “The schools can't survive without the parents,” said Kathy Kohake, a Boone County parent and teacher. “As a teacher, there's not enough hours in the day to get to every child and help them the way you want. The parents are the child's best teachers.”

        Ms. Kohake, mother of Yealey Elementary students Lauren, 10, and 7-year-old twins Abby and Joe, has been president of the school's Parent Teacher Association for the past two years, in addition to teaching part-time at Goodridge and North Pointe elementary schools.

        She has coordinated fund-raisers, recruited parent volunteers and organized events. But just being around the school has made the difference with her children.

        "They just like seeing me up there,” she said.

        But parents don't have to volunteer every day at the school or be PTA president to be involved.

        “Being an involved parent doesn't mean that they have to volunteer 50 hours a month,” said Alan Ahrman, principal of Grant's Lick Elementary in Campbell County. “Being an involved parent is staying on top of the child's education and asking pertinent questions and lending a hand when the teacher says, "Susie needs some extra work on her math tables.'”

Information helps

        Grant's Lick has made parent involvement a priority. The school holds parents' meetings throughout the year, including a spring program in which students and parents meet their new teachers for the coming year, go over classroom expectations and get a list of things to do over summer to prepare.

        Teachers also send home weekly newsletters, and students bring home an assignment book every day with homework and messages for parents to sign.

   A few tips to get your child off to a good start at school this fall:
    • If your child is entering a new school, call to arrange a tour and find a neighborhood child who will also attend the school, so your child will know at least one classmate beforehand.
    • Some schools offer choices for academic or curricular programs. Call your school district to find out about your child's options.
    • Ease the switch from vacation to school by setting bedtime a little earlier each night before school starts.
    • It sometimes takes a while for children to get comfortable with their new teacher. Reassure your child that it takes time to develop a relationship.
    • Expect your child's teacher to be professional, fair and respectful. You have a right to expect high standards, but don't expect perfection.
    • Get a list of needed school supplies from your school and buy early. And label everything.
    • Be sure your child has a secure way to carry supplies, lunch money or other materials to and from school.
    • Figure out transportation plans well ahead of the start of school and make sure your child is familiar with the routine, whether they ride the bus, walk to school or use a carpool. And if your child will ride the bus, review safety rules.
    • Use a family calendar to keep track of school events, and attend your school's open house.
        “We don't feel like we can give them enough information,” Mr. Ahrman said.

        And information is key, said Beth Vachon, co-author of The School-Savvy Parent: 365 Insider Tips to Help You Help Your Child.

        “The more you know about the school, the better,” she said. “You don't want your child being influenced by people that you don't have any idea what they're about.”

        Ms. Vachon, a mother of two teen-agers, teaches at Roby Elementary in Bullitt County. Her book, named best parenting resource of 2000 by the National Association of Parents Publications, suggests parents attend orientations, learn teachers' policies and talk to teachers about their children's strengths and weaknesses.

        “It's very important, no matter what the age of the kid, for parents to communicate to their kids how important they think education is,” she said.

        Parents are not only meeting with teachers and finding out classroom policies. More are looking at what their children are doing in class.

        Parent involvement is seeing a shift toward following curriculum and state testing standards, said Kerry Zack, project coordinator for the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership.

        “There's more of an emphasis on being more engaged with what the children are actually learning,” Ms. Zack said.

Parent role vital

        Anne T. Henderson, senior consultant with the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University, has tracked research on the impact of parent involvement for the past two decades, authoring three books on the subject.

        “When parents are involved, not only do their own children do better in school, schools as a whole tend to get better,” she said.

        Ms. Henderson points to four roles parents can play in their children's education: teacher, supporter, advocate and decision-maker.

        Parents are their children's teacher at home, helping with class work, reading to them or preparing a quiet place to study.

        Volunteering, attending school functions and voting in school board elections fall into the supporter role. Serving on school committees and giving input at board meetings puts parents into decision-maker mode.

        The parent's role as an advocate is the most underdeveloped because it's often viewed as adversarial, Ms. Henderson said. But speaking up for a child's interests and monitoring a school's performance is just being a good consumer, she said.

        “It kind of puts the school on notice that they need to be careful,” Ms. Henderson said. “Schools should welcome that, instead of seeing it as meddling parents.”

CPS seeks involvement

        The strength of a school's parent involvement usually depends on the school's efforts to engage parents, Ms. Henderson said.

        Cincinnati Public Schools wants parents involved so much that the district put major school decisions into their hands. Through CPS' local school decision-making committees, parents, along with community members and school staff, make decisions on school budgets, policies and principal selection.

        While similar school councils are required by law in Kentucky, Cincinnati has used the practice on its own for two decades.

        “That's how strongly we feel about having a voice in the schools that represents what the school is all about,” said Rosa Blackwell, CPS deputy superintendent.

        Dee Fricker is among CPS' parent decision-makers; she is chairwoman of McKinley School's council. Her three daughters — Shannon, 14, Caitlin, 10, and Alana Moran, 8 — all attend the school.

        Leading the council for the past four years, Ms. Fricker has acted as a liaison between the school and community, most recently helping build a new school.

        “It's about empowerment,” she said of the councils. “It's bringing new life to the community and putting the emphasis on education.”

Make time available

        Holly Pape, whose son, Johnathon, will be a freshman at Campbell County High School, is proof that working parents can be involved in their children's schools. A full-time executive assistant, Mrs. Pape has been PTA president at her son's elementary and middle schools, volunteering at the schools a couple times a week.

        “You have to make time to volunteer,” she said. “If you wait for time to become available, it doesn't.”

        Plus, Mrs. Pape supervises Johnathon's homework and e-mails his teachers regularly about his progress.

        “Those are all things that help you be connected and not even be at the school,” she said.

        And she has seen results.

        Johnathon's grades have improved, and he likes school more, Mrs. Pape said.

        “He seemed more interested because I was interested,” she said.

        But now that Johnathon will be in high school, Mrs. Pape is a little leery, wondering if parent involvement should taper off.

        Not true, said Bev Hawley, coordinator of Ohio Parent Teacher Association's Family, School, Community Involvement Commission Team.

        While it's often easier to be involved in elementary school, Ms. Hawley said, it's more critical for parents to stay involved as their children move into middle and high school.

        “That is where they need to see the strong parent involvement because that is where they tend to veer off sometimes,” she said.


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