Saturday, June 13, 2015


by Kimberly Beltran | SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet

June 9, 2015 (Calif.)  ::   Eight elementary schools in some of the state’s neediest communities will pilot a digital learning program aimed at helping more parents better engage in their child’s education.

Results from the pilot, set to begin next spring, will be used to identify which digital literacy components to incorporate into a larger parent education program already offered by the California PTA.

“Although we think technology is everywhere it still remains a difficult challenge for many parents, especially those that are not digital natives, which is the majority of us, still,” said Lisa Borrego, director of the California PTA’s parent education program, School Smarts.

“For whatever reason, there are extenuating circumstances that may not allow them to have the same access to technology or the understanding of how to utilize it,” she said.

The program comes as schools implement the technology-heavy Common Core standards and look for ways to meet new state goals that include greater parent input into decisions affecting their child’s education. Research has shown that parent engagement correlates with greater student achievement.

Many districts have struggled to affect the kind of parent participation envisioned under Gov. Jerry Brown’s revamped school finance system, known as the Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF.

But programs like School Smarts are helping bring more parents to the table by bridging gaps that alienate them, including the digital divide.

Being developed by the California PTA with a $100,000 grant from cable giant Comcast, the digital literacy curriculum for the pilot initially will serve 240 parent participants, who will learn how to use digital devices and the internet to connect with their local schools, track their children’s coursework, and understand and engage in education decision-making. 

Following a detailed review and assessment of the pilot project, California State PTA will identify digital literacy components to incorporate into the statewide School Smarts program, which is expected to serve more than 3,600 predominantly low-income parents by the end 2015-2016.

School Smarts is a seven-session course that educates parents on topics that include: understanding the education system, communicating effectively, advocating for a quality education, and the importance of parent involvement. The key principle of the program is inclusion and the curriculum is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

“Much of what our program is based on is providing parents real fundamental, basic information around how to help their student, how to learn more about their children’s learning styles and ways that they can obtain and access resources to educate themselves,” said Borrego.

The primary objectives of the PTA’s digital literacy program are to:

  •     Empower parent-participants at the pilot school sites, which in turn will support achievement of their students, and
  •     Enhance access to the internet for more low-income parents, as a way to increase their engagement with their schools and their children's education.

“We have all different kinds of communities of parents who take the School Smarts program – it’s a very diverse program,” said Borrego. “We have many second language learners; we have families that are completely brand new to the United States – immigrants – who may have English as part of their previous education but need to familiarize themselves with our educational system.

“The technology available here and its potential as a tool for monitoring and assisting a student’s educational progress is just another component of parent education that we’re hoping to add with this program,” she said.

In addition to the pilot program, the state PTA plans to offer an additional, stand-alone session devoted to digital basics and training and support for course facilitators.

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