By Christina Hoag, Associated Press | http://bit.ly/fRqZkj
smf: I’m sitting here in the Boston Airport reading this. Soon a plane will thankfully come take me away.
Folks need to understand the difference between:
recruiting parent volunteers - parent volunteers do things for the school
parent education – nutrition workshops, self-esteem classes, citizenship classes, etc. For the parents.
and parent involvement and engagement in the education of their children. For the kids.
It is the third that is called for – and it isn’t so easy as taking a half-hearted stab at the first two.
12/18/2010 10:53:13 AM PST -- LOS ANGELES -- It's no secret that students do better in school if their parents are involved in their education, but getting them interested is a challenge that makes Haydee Escajera roll her eyes and sigh.
"It's very difficult," said Escajera, who recruits parents as volunteers at Manual Arts High School, located in impoverished central Los Angeles. "It's not just that they're busy, even parents who don't work aren't interested."
Getting parents involved in their kids' education is a steep uphill battle at high schools serving urban neighborhoods, where parents are often overwhelmed by the need to make ends meet.
But those are the parents who need most to be involved to steer teens away from the inner city's ready lures of gangs, drugs and dropping out.
The conunmdrum has long plagued urban school districts like Los Angeles Unified, which are under federal mandate to involve parents.
District leaders now aim to try a new model — forming "Parent and Family Centers" that offer everything from self-esteem improvement to nutrition workshops to citizenship classes at schools.
The concept is that boosting parents will lead to a healthier home environment and ultimately higher student achievement, said Christopher Downing, LAUSD administrator of school family, parent, and community services. "We have to work smarter to reach those parents," he said.
So-called "parent academies" are used in other urban districts across the nation with varying degrees of success, experts said. Most provide educational and parenting-type workshops, such as applying to college or spotting drug use, but do not offer the social programming LAUSD is considering.
Administrators are forming a task force to come up with a "family support network" plan over the next 90 days. Superintendent Ramon Cortines has said the cash-strapped district has no extra funds for the program, which would have to be financed using existing federal parent involvement grants, roughly $2 million a year.
School board member Yolie Flores, the plan's major proponent, said the program, which is in place at a couple schools, would not entail additional costs. A main component would be a database that parents could consult for information on everything from legal aid to English classes to domestic violence counseling. Nonprofits and community groups, and city and county agencies would be tapped to give workshops at no or little cost.
"It's another way to connect with parents," she said. "We can make this a point of access."
Providing social services is only part of the solution to involving parents, which includes training teachers to welcome parents without talking down to them, and telling parents specifically how they can help their children in school, said Joyce Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University.
Others said schools typically offer programs when most parents can't attend — during school hours. The key is surveying parents to find out what services they want and offering them at convenient times for parents, said Mary Johnson, founder of LA parent advocacy group Parent U-Turn. Child care is also a plus.
"They offer them in the mornings and then say no one came," Johnson said. "You need to build what they want and then they will come."
Experiences at schools like Manual Arts, among California's lowest performing high schools, underscore that attempts to involve parents are often hit and miss.
The 3,600-student school, with a dropout rate of nearly 30 percent, started stepping up its efforts last year to try to interest more parents, who are typically some of the toughest to reach. Many are Spanish-speaking immigrants who have little schooling. They encounter a language barrier with teachers, and can feel condescended to by English-speakers.
Academic subjects, such as algebra, are beyond their comprehension. College appears far out of their financial reach.
If they are in the country illegally, they may be afraid to enter an official institution like a school. Laws requiring fingerprinting and background checks for some volunteers dissuade some.
"People feel inferior," said Delmy Arteaga, a Salvadoran mother of an 11th grader. "They feel intimidated. That stops them."
Tucked away in a classroom on a far side of campus, the school's Parent Center served as little more than a coffee klatch for a small clique of mothers, said Ruby Guerrero, associate director of parent engagement for Mentor LA, a nonprofit educational group that runs the school with the district.
Mentor LA moved the center to a more visible spot in an administrator's office near the main entrance, and stocked it with books and pamphlets on parenting and colleges, in Spanish and English, plus three computers equipped with information on everything from tutoring assistance to medical clinics.
Community and local government groups provide free programs — in Spanish and English. Fliers are sent home with students and volunteers phone parents to personally urge them to come.
The result has been a slow trickle of parents. On a recent morning, 10 gathered around a table to listen to two speakers outline options for college financing in an hourlong workshop in Spanish. When the bell rang for class change, a couple students passed by and waved to their parents through the open door.
For many participants, the session was a dizzying first lesson about the complex U.S. higher education system — the difference between two-year and four-year colleges, state and private universities, financial aid and loans. "We need a three-hour workshop," said father Miguel Fuentes.
But across campus, no one showed up at a session on drug and alcohol prevention.
Unemployed mother Maria Rodriguez, who attended the college financing workshop, said more classes should be offered at night so more people can attend.
"It's excellent," the Mexican native said. "No one in my family has gone to college, and I really want my son to go. They should do a lot more of these."
The most popular workshop so far was an evening series on tenant's rights that brought in a rarely seen group — fathers. Organizers took advantage and brought in guidance counselors to speak to the 40 dads about their kids' report cards after one session, although that's not the norm.
At a school like Manual Arts, where parent activity was next to nil, reaching 40 parents was deemed a huge success.
School board member Flores said she sees a lot of potential in the Manual Arts model, especially with district support. "All parents care," she said. "But I don't know if they understand how critical their role is."
Escajera said she's thrilled at the new impetus. "I just got five fathers to sign up as volunteers," she said, smiling. "But I still wish I had a kind of magnet to pull parents in."