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Article of Interest - Parenting

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Bridges4Kids LogoParent Skills, Input a Boon to Schools
by Joe Nathan, TwinCities.com, August 31, 2003
For more articles like this visit http://www.bridges4kids.org

 
Real openness and cooperation, not just the all-too-common rhetoric, are vital for effective schools.

As the new school year begins, it's worth remembering that students do better when educators and parents don't just listen to but hear each other. Building ties can be harder than you think. Sometimes, misguided professionalism or family frustration over previous failures limits what can be accomplished.

Four short stories about parent-educator conflicts I've seen or heard about over the past few years offer some lessons.

In the first school, a group of parents went to a "site committee" meeting. Parents had been invited to present ideas about how the school could spend about $140,000 in state funds to improve achievement of students from low-income families or families who did not speak English. These parents brought a translator to the meeting, since many of them did not speak English well. They proposed hiring a bilingual aide to work in the office (about 35 percent of the school's students spoke their language).

The parents also proposed training for teachers to help them understand their youngsters, and an after-school program to give their children extra help in learning English. Their proposals would have spent about one-third of the available money.

Then the principal distributed recommendations that he and the faculty had developed. It did not include any of the parents' suggestions and no parents had been invited to the meeting where the list was developed. After brief discussion, the committee adopted the principal's list. None of the suggestions from the non-English speaking parents were adopted.

These parents never again came to the committee. Several enrolled their children in a bilingual charter school.

In another school, several parents tried to get their children in an Advanced Placement course, but teachers insisted that only students with a high overall grade point average were eligible. Parents suggested students with a strong record in a specific area, such as English, math or social studies, should be allowed to take the advanced course in that field. But the faculty insisted students without a high overall grade point average would "drag down" the class.

It seemed to me the students should be given a chance to try meeting standards in one AP class. But the faculty wouldn't budge, deeply frustrating parents and students.

At another school, an angry parent met with her daughter's school principal. The child had tripped on a loose playground board and skinned her knee.

The parent felt the school's playground wasn't safe.

The principal agreed that the playground was old and needed work. So the principal asked the parent if she would help form a parent-community committee not just to fix up, but to transform the playground into something everyone could be proud of. The parent, expecting excuses from the principal, was surprised by her openness and readily agreed. Parents, educators, students and the broader community had raised money, hired an architect and produced a playground over the next year that was a model for many communities.

In a fourth school, parents were frustrated by graduation night parties some students attended. Some graduates had been involved in alcohol-influenced car crashes that produced terrible injuries in the past few years.

The school's principal formed a parent-faculty-student committee.

Several students learned about a nearby community that had an all-night graduation party at the school. Businesses and community groups donated prizes and food. Virtually all the seniors attended the party.

Putting it on was a huge amount of work for parents. But the number of traffic accidents involving graduating seniors declined to almost nothing.

Overall, no one faculty, families or students is always right.

Sometimes people have goofy or unwise ideas. But openness and cooperation often help solve problems. Welcome back for another school year. 

   

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