9.10.2011

Every Moment Matters in Parent Engagement

So many of my thoughts on education and advocacy end up on facebook as comments to my fellow Mom Congress links or threads, that at times I feel that I am (like the Plimsouls song) "everywhere at once." So today I thought I would take a moment and focus about what advocacy means to me and why positive parent engagement is essential to student success.

Recently my friend Melissa Taylor (MC2011 Colorado) in her blog Imagination Soup shared some great tips on "Parent Advocacy Do's and Don'ts" from a recent interview with Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon. These are some great suggestions. But in addition to that post, there are several others, one Melissa wrote for Volunteer Spot (full disclosure, I wrote a post that was featured during week two of the I support my school my way campaign) during week four. In her post she relates the frustrations she has experienced as an advocate for her child and how obstacles in clear communication and support have made her determined to advocate even more.

Parents like Melissa are not alone. Certainly when we advocate for our children and their educational well being, there are teachers, administrators, school board members, legislators, business leaders, etc, who would rather we spoke our three minutes and then faded away into obscurity. However for every one person that would rather a parent just went away, there are a number of those same teachers, administrators, school board members, legislators, and business leaders who appreciate and encourage our advocacy efforts and want to support not only our speaking out, but a chorus of voices as well.

I believe that a parent educated about education will be a more effective partner in education. My friend Cushon Bell from California (also a Mom Congress alum) recently posted on her facebook page that she is in the process of reading "the California Education Code from start to finish." No small task I am sure. But I know her purpose and goal is to better understand the law, and thus how the law has been interpreted, and to help the law be effectively implemented. I continually urge parents to read every document that our school district sends home-before they send in the signature page that says they have read it. Our district (like many) sends home a copy of the "Student's Bill of Rights" among other code of conduct pieces of literature. Parents (along with their student) are to read this booklet, then return to the school a page with signatures verifying it has been read. Far too often parents sign this paperwork without reading the material. Then when a problem occurs, and they claim they didn't know about a certain form of disciplinary action, the district can show them that they signed the form indicating that they did know.

The PTA as part of it's advocacy efforts have produced a (rather hefty) summary on the State Laws on Family Engagement in Education Reference Guide. This 254 page piece is broken down into sections, including a Overview and Guide to Action, Essential Components of Family Engagement Laws, Family Engagement Laws, and so forth. Each section includes particulars about what the law says regarding parents/families alphabetically by state. For example, when this document was printed, eleven states lack family engagement laws: HI, ID, KS, MY, NM, OK, OR, RI, SD, WI, and WY. In Kentucky (Revised Statutes, Chapter 158, Section 158.645) it states that "The General Assembly recognizes that public education involves shared responsibilities. State government, local communities, parents, students, and school employees must work together to create an efficient public school system. Parents and students must assist schools with efforts to assure student attendance, preparation for school, and involvement in learning. The cooperation of all involved is necessary to assure that desired outcomes are achieved..." (State Laws on Family Engagement in Education Reference Guide, pp 49-50).  So, there it is. Parents are expected to be partners in this endeavor. I think, like Cushon, knowing the language of the law is important in understanding how it is executed as well as interpreted. The definition of assist, for instance, is to "do a share of the work." What is the work? Educating children. How do I share in the work? That is the question....

Recently Kathryn Thompson of Parenting Magazine wrote a blog on Thoughts on Parent Engagement and cited me as an example of someone who has inspired her to do more. While that is certainly flattering, what I find more important than holding my actions up as a model for others, is that I look around and see inspiration in what others are doing. I see my friend Gwen Samuel in Connecticut working with the American Federation of Teachers to create a better relationship so that the CT Parent Trigger Law can be implemented as it was intended, to give a voice to the parents at those schools that are failing. I see my friend Jerri Ann Reason just trying to help the children of Alabama devastated by tornadoes to have a playground rebuilt in their community by partnering with KaBOOM! to raise awareness and funds. I see my friend Candice Lynn Kumer Larsen posting on facebook every single day about her children's school in rural Idaho and featured as a champion on Stay Classy.

But I also see parents positively engaged by attending school open houses, by reading to their children after school at the Library, by walking their children to class, by popping popcorn for students, and by attending PTA meetings. Every level of involvement matters. Every moment counts. As Alexis Lauricella in a recent Huffington Post article states, "[T]he teachers and school systems clearly can't do it all on their own" and that's why the PTA helped introduce the Family Engagement in Education Act 2011.

We must respect that each of us will have a different experience with education. For some, it is because our children attend a school in a rural community, for others it is an urban environment. Some of us have children who have unique needs and challenges because they are facing homelessness, poverty, illness, or other issues. But every child deserves a quality education. Every child deserves to have teachers who are compassionate and caring, buildings that are well maintained, educational materials that will support 21st century learning, and parents who will speak up for them every opportunity that they are given and who will positively partner and engage in education, not because they get a certificate or a blog written about them, but because it is the right thing to do.

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