How A Dad & A School Made It Work

by Allan Appel | June 23, 2008 2:18 PM |

nhi-viajan%20001.JPGThe school doesn’t rely on emailing parents. And James Via doesn’t make it to many Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meetings. Still his family, and the school, wrapped up a model year of a parent’s involvement in his children’s education.

A single dad with a demanding job, James Via (pictured in the stands at a son’s basketball game) nevertheless managed to be a regular presence at Jackie Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School this year — even if not at all the official meetings the school wants parents to attend.

The Independent has been following the Vias and three other families this school year to look for clues to improving the involvement of parents in their children’s schooling. The school’s assistant principal, Keisha Redd reflected on what Jackie Robinson and James Via did right and what advice schools and parents should follow:

Finding time to show up at the school, often, and connecting even when an event doesn’t involve his children.

IMG_viceprinc1jr4583.JPG“He’s well liked, never misses an athletic or sporting event,” said Redd, (pictured with Via’s daughter Jameisha), who knew James Via when both were students at Hillhouse High. “He really sets the model for parental involvement — and that model doesn’t have anything to do with being a mom or a dad, single or a couple.”

It turned out that Via, because of the pressures of his schedule, has attended few PTO meetings, but he’s still seen as one of the school’s go-to-parents.

“As Ms. [Ilene] Tracey [the principal] says, a parent can come to a dinner, attend report card/meet the teacher night, help at a performance, give some funds, whatever. There are as many ways as kids,” Redd said.

James Via was involved with the school this year in ways that went beyond his own children. He helped out in the cafeteria, at dinners, with props for the plays — and Jameisha, Nate’, and Michael, his kids, didn’t have to be in the performances.

Not only meaningful communication between the school and parent, but maintenance of it.

Unlike Amistad Academy (see this story), Jackie Robinson doesn’t rely heavily on email. Many of the school’s 380 families don’t have regular access to email, Redd said. Instead the school relies on old-fashioned pen and paper. “We are a kind of back-to-basics school even in this regard: notes written by teachers or administrators and carried by the child or given to the parent and pick-off or drop-off mean a lot.”

Whatever the form of contact, do it early, Redd advised. “If a child’s doing something suddenly out of character, throwing paper, for example, we contact the parent. We don’t want them to say, ‘I never heard of this.’”

Communicate about success, too.

“We send notes or have dialogue about positive things. And a single note can be potent…

“One of our biggest successes was with this one parent who was getting so many notes from her kid’s teachers about problems, that she couldn’t open them anymore! She began to shy away from the school. It was just too much.

“Then one day, she arrived to pick him up, and the child showed her a note, which said, in effect, He had a great day. And you know what happened? Right there in the cafeteria she burst into tears! The boy went around and showed the note to everyone. There hasn’t been a problem since.”

Via’s View

Get to know the teachers. That’s James Via’s advice. He said that was the most important part of his involvement with the school this year. “Especially,” he said, “in the case of Michael. I got to know Ms. Robinson early, and there were a lot of calls coming.”

Michael has become a super athlete this year, playing basketball and baseball at the same time. That, said Via, has led him not to have the time in the schedule he really needed for writing and reading tutoring, which Via said he has let drop by the wayside this year. Still, Michael seems to be moving along, although his sisters, academically, are still out there, models for him to catch.

• What does a busy dad especially appreciate about the way the school reaches out to him? “If they remind me of something coming up, that really helps. I can adjust my schedule and be there.”

Although Via was giving some serious thought of moving his kids back to Virginia, those plans have been delayed. He expects all the kids to re-enroll at King Robinson in the fall.


Previous installments in the Independent’s series on parental involvement in local schools:

Parent Power Tool: Email

Parents Unite In Parking Lot

The World’s At King/Robinson’s Door

Parents Give Schools Thumbs Up

Mom’s Business Grows, Along With Xena

Parents Confront Mayo

7 Parents Get Their Own “Head Start”

Moonlight Readers in West Rock

Joshua’s Parents Take Him To “Foie Gras” Service

Parents Question Skittles Suspension


Parents Want Say On Suspensions

Brandon Earns His Blue Shirt

Mr. Via Procures The Evidence

Son Gets Pills; Suspension Policy Targeted

Campaign for Recess Mounts


Dad Never Misses A Game


Dad Goes To The Top, Gets Results


Parents, M&Ms Join In Math Lesson

Xena Tunes Up. Mom, Too.


Brandon Aims For The Blue Shirt

Mr. Via Confers, Brings Ice

Night-Shift Waitress Hangs Up Apron

Xena Aces Bingo


Mom Gets A Politics Pep Talk


Dad Meets The Teachers. All Of ‘Em

Ms. Lopez Moves Brandon’s Seat

Night-Shift Waitress Gets Xena To Class On Time

Dad Marked Present

Fifth-Graders Get “Amistadized”

Board of Ed To Parents: Get Involved!

Sumrall Looks To Parents

Task Force Hones Plan for Kids

The New St. Martin DePorres Comes Home







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