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Article of Interest - Parental Involvement

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Bridges4Kids LogoProgram Profile: Woodley Hills Elementary School Makes the Most of All Resources
October 2004 issue of Educators' Notebook on Family Involvement® newsletter
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Parents and community members are an important part of the mix at Woodley Hills Elementary School. Located in Alexandria, Virginia, Woodley Hills is a culturally diverse school where more than 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

Woodley Hills also is a school that succeeds, and it has more than its share of accolades to prove it. In 2001, for example, the Character Education Partnership selected Woodley Hills as one of eight National Schools of Character. (The Character Education Partnership is a Washington, DC-based coalition of organizations and individuals committed to fostering effective character education in the nation’s K–12 schools.)

A big part of Woodley Hills’ success, in addition to a talented and dedicated staff, is the active involvement of parents and community members. The Parent Resource Center is a hub of parent activity. One popular feature is the computer bank that parents can use to look for jobs, create resumes, and more. The center also provides a place where parents can come to meet with teachers in a more relaxed atmosphere and where they can come to meet with other parents—an increasingly popular use.

The Parent Resource Center partners with the Communities in Schools Program to provide classes for Hispanic parents who do not speak English. The classes, which are taught in Spanish, are designed to show parents what they can do at home to get their preschoolers ready to read. Spanish-language books that parents can read to their children are available, and parents are encouraged to pick up books in English as well so they can improve their own language abilities.

The school also enjoys strong support from the surrounding community. One of the units from Fort Belvoir, a nearby military base, provides mentors for Woodley Hills students. “They come in during the day and spend time reading and talking with the students—just checking in on them to see if they are doing their work, if they need some support or just to talk,” assistant principal Sharon Aldredge explains.

Woodley Hills makes the most of grant funding and corporate partnerships, too. One very effective program is known as Family and Student Technology (FAST). With start-up funding from a U.S. Department of Education grant and ongoing support from a leading supplier of classroom technology, the school is able to supply each fifth-grader with a laptop computer and printer for use during the school year. In conjunction with the FAST program, fifth-grade parents are given training in how to use the computers, as well.

“We are always looking for funding to continue and expand this program,” Aldredge explains, adding that keeping the program going is a priority. “As long as we have a computer that works, we will send it home with a student,” she says.

“We also have a very strong PTA,” Aldredge notes. “They are involved in so many aspects of our school and are the catalyst for so much of what happens here at Woodley Hills. Last year, for example, they organized a trip for our fourth-graders to go to Richmond [Virginia], where they actually presented a bill to the General Assembly.”

Aldredge met recently with a group of parents who are interested in providing healthier, more nutritious lunches in the school cafeteria—a response to the rising concern about childhood obesity. “Our PTA really gets involved,” she says. “When they see an issue, they are willing to step in and work to address it. What we do here really is a collaborative partnership with our parents and our community as a whole.”

Aldredge’s sentiments are echoed by PTA vice president Gwendolyn Loftus, the mother of a fifth-grader. “You really can’t tell where the PTA stops and the school begins. It’s such a collaborative relationship.” And, she continues, it’s easy to get involved. “This is a school that makes you feel welcome. You feel wanted when you are here.”

Contact: Sharon Aldredge, Assistant Principal, Woodley Hills Elementary School, 8718 Old Mt. Vernon Road, Alexandria, VA 22309, 703/799-2000.

(Reprinted with permission from the October 2004 issue of Educators' Notebook on Family Involvement® newsletter. Copyright © 2004 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc. May not be reprinted or distributed.)


Understanding Families: Weekly Time Focusing on Family Brings Hard-to-Reach Parents to School

October 2004 issue of Educators' Notebook on Family Involvement® newsletter

Today’s busy lifestyles can make getting even some of the most highly educated parents involved with their children’s education a challenge. The problems are compounded when parents lack formal education and confidence that they have the knowledge and skills to help their child.

The staff at one Portland, Oregon, school used a family history project to bring such parents to the school and engage them in activities designed to help build reading and writing skills and boost self-confidence. The school is located in one of the historically poorest sections of the city. Standard approaches, such as sending home newsletters and asking parents to read with their children, simply didn’t work in this environment.

Instead, parents were invited to come in for a two-hour session once each week. They used the time to work on oral and written histories of their families with their child. Parents would also use the time to work on their own stories or poems about their families, write in the journal they were asked to keep, or check out library books to read with their children. In addition, they worked with their children on specially designed language development activities. For example, parents would make up a story with their children—the parent would write the story and the child would illustrate it.

The fact that the program worked gives testimony to the fact that most parents want to help their children—regardless of their life situation or socioeconomic status.

Source: “Family Involvement in Children’s Education: Bridging School-Family Differences,” U.S. Department of Education,

(Reprinted with permission from the October 2004 issue of Educators' Notebook on Family Involvement® newsletter. Copyright © 2004 The Parent Institute®, a division of NIS, Inc. May not be copied or reproduced.)


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