This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
To the editors:
I thank the Notebook for focusing on parental involvement in its Winter 2006-07 issue.
Through my work as director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Institute for Parental Involvement and now at the School District, I have learned that parental involvement means different things to different people.
For the busy, working, single parent, involvement may mean providing a good breakfast and seeing that children get to school on time. On the other hand, school teachers and administrators may think that parental involvement is measured by the number of times a parent or caregiver is seen at school. Communication is the key to understanding the different viewpoints.
Educators must be mindful that there are several barriers to getting and keeping parents engaged in their child’s academic success. Today, our schools have children from more diverse families, cultures, and experiences than ever before. Most parents, regardless of their background, want the best for their children. Schools must understand their role in making parents feel welcomed and valued.
Some parents are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and may need assistance from the school. The parent may need the school to contact them with encouraging news about the child’s progress. The parent may need the school to make referrals for resources in the community. The parent may need and appreciate a place to sit down, have a cup of coffee, and interact with other adults.
Parents need to have meaningful, positive relationships with schools for productive partnerships to develop. Families are the schools’ “customers,” and where needed, opportunities for professional development must be offered to educators and staff to help them become more customer-friendly.
Families and schools play an important role in raising students’ self-esteem, reducing truancy, and disproving the stereotype that inner-city students cannot and/or will not become academic achievers. When our schools hire staff who are willing to raise the level of expectation for all students, develop constructive relationships with families and communities, and begin to think “outside of the box” for solutions, our students, our families, our schools, and our communities will benefit.
Quibila A. Divine
Divine is assistant director of family engagement for the School District of Philadelphia.