By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer LA Daily News
Parents sort home work handouts at Langdon Elementary. Though the North Hills school is surrounded by poverty and gangs, the campus is relying on parent involvement to help teachers and students improve test scores. (John McCoy/staff photographer)
10/3 -- NORTH HILLS — After being labeled a failing school for years, Langdon Elementary saw its test scores soar last year - but students and teachers are not taking all the credit.
It is Langdon parents who are being lauded as the key to this school's success.
"These parents are not just dropping off and picking up their kids. They're active partners in their kids' education," said Virginia Flores, director of the Langdon Parent Center.
In the last two years, parental involvement at this predominantly Latino and low-income campus has grown tenfold and the results have shown in impressive test score gains - 38 points on the last API state benchmark exam.
Maria Marcos, mother of second- and third-graders, said
Parents help at Langdon Elementary
the school's success can be attributed to the teamwork between parents and teachers.
"Here we are all working together to help our students succeed."
And mothers and fathers at Langdon are doing much more than organizing bake sales and photocopying worksheets.
Five days a week, parents drop off their kids in class and then attend conferences themselves to learn teaching strategies they can use at home.
"This progress is more than just about test scores," Flores said. "This is a victory for our community."
Parental involvement has become a key word for educators across the country in recent years, including at the Los Angeles Unified School District, as schools struggle to improve student achievement.
Studies show that children with involved parents who participate in their education tend to perform better in standardized tests.
LAUSD officials have also made a push to increase involvement by building more parent centers at schools and focusing reform efforts around community participation.
Still, getting parent involvement can be a challenge for some schools.
Langdon Principal Leah Perrotti still remembers the small scattering of parents she had when she first arrived at Langdon two years ago.
"For many of my parents, it was not only a language barrier, but also a cultural barrier," Perrotti said.
At Langdon, almost every student comes from a low-income family, and many parents have limited English skills and little formal education.
To help with language, many district parent centers focus on giving mothers and fathers English classes, and basic homework tips are also given to help with assignments -- but Perrotti decided to take things further.
The veteran educator began to target her lessons to parents as methodically as she did to her students. With the help of Flores, who has been working with parent involvement at LAUSD for 16 years, the duo decided to show their parents what to do.
They brought in academic coaches who taught parents reading and math strategies in their native language. Parents were given special courses to help them have more effective conferences with teachers, and classrooms were opened to parents throughout the day so they could observe lessons and better understand how to do homework with their kids.
Perrotti also said she made sure to not only invite parents on campus -- but welcome them.
"If you tell a parent they can only visit their child's classroom for 20 minutes, you are creating a roadblock for participation," Perrotti said.
"What I have now is empowered parents."
Rosemary Cruz, the mother of a kindergartner, is one of them.
"It's my first experience at a school, but I can say that everyone makes me feel welcome."
For educators like Miranda Arroyo, a science teacher at Langdon, having engaged parents is like having a secret weapon in the classroom.
"It's an incredible asset," Arroyo said.
"When parents know what their kids are doing, students know it, too, and they are more engaged."
Arroyo admits that having more parents constantly watching can ruffle the feathers of some teachers.
"Some people want to resist change ... but change is here."
Tucked between rows of dense apartment buildings, Langdon is at the intersection of several gangs and has been the target of vandalism and even campus lockdowns.
But the school's academic improvement has become a sense of pride, even for those who don't even have children at the school.
"My children are grown up and out of the house, but I still come and volunteer because I love the teachers, the parents and the school," said Lucia Luna, a North Hills resident who does volunteer cleaning at the school.
Flores also celebrates the change in the culture of the school.
"We are in a tough neighborhood where there are gangs, and people are afraid to speak up," Flores said.
"But we've managed to get our parents engaged in the classroom, and that's made all the difference."