Acting on a challenge from the school reform team, Rosa Rodriguez found a way to bring almost every parent in school out to report card night.
Rodriguez (pictured) is the PTO president at Nathan Hale School, which serves grades pre-K to 8 in the East Shore. Tuesday, she shared her parent-pulling secrets.
She is one of about 100 parent leaders citywide who were asked last fall to recruit as many parents as possible to report card night on Nov. 18 and 19. (The next round of report card nights, originally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday nights, were postponed two weeks because of the snowstorm.)
The challenge was part of the mayor’s school change campaign. The campaign aims to cut the dropout rate in half, close the achievement gap and prepare children to succeed in college—in part by getting more parents involved with their kids’ educations.
For the first time last November, the school district kept track of how many parents showed up to report card night, where parents find out their child’s grades and talk with teachers. A ranked list was released last month to parents.
Nathan Hale emerged in third place with 95 percent turnout. Bishop Woods School and Edgewood Magnet School both reached 96 percent turnout. (Turnout was measured in percent of students whose parents attended.)
Click here to view the full ranked list provided by the Board of Ed. The “total # attended” column shows the number of students whose parents attended.
“It’s all about communication,” said Rodriguez, an energetic mother who’s in her second year as PTO president.
Three other schools scored in the high 90s: Davis Street, Worthington Hooker, and Conte/West Hills, where parents are resuscitating an inactive PTO.
The Cross CT Scholars Program, where teachers tried out innovative student-led parent teacher conferences on report card night, reached an 84 percent turnout, soaring above the city’s two biggest high schools, where turnout hovered near 30 percent.
Boosting attendance at report card night has been one major focus of the citywide PTO, which was revived last fall as part of the school reform drive. School administrators picked two active parents from each school to join the group. At the group’s first meeting last November, they brainstormed how to get more parents out to report card night. In January, they found out how they did.
New Challenge Set
Parents with high turnout shared their success stories at a January meeting of the citywide PTO, according to Laoise King, the new external affairs chief for the school reform drive. When the group met again last week, parents set their sights on a new goal.
“We have now posed the challenge to the PTOs to increase turnout by 10 percent for the February report card night,” King said this week.
Wednesday’s snowstorm gives PTO presidents like Rodriguez two more weeks to reach more parents. Last time, 460 students, or 95 percent of grades K-8, had their parents attend. Her new goal: 100 percent turnout.
Rodriquez knows that might be difficult, since some parents work at night. She said she plans to continue with the strategies that worked well in November.
Constant communication with parents—sometimes over cranberry scones baked by teacher Sue Kelly—helped her school emerge near the top of the district in parental involvement, she said.
Rodriguez spoke with the Independent between rushing around the school on various missions Tuesday. In the morning, she unloaded Valentines Day supplies from her closet—she has her own closet at school, stocked with plates, cups and napkins for the ubiquitous parent functions she helps arrange—and distributed them to younger kids at school.
Around 2 p.m., she emerged from the front office.
“Hola, como están?” she said, greeting a trio of moms who were chatting in Spanish.
Across the hallway, she delivered a piece of Girl Scout mail to another mom.
It was a routine scene; Rodriguez shows up there every morning and every afternoon.
“I come here every day at one o’clock. That’s what I do,” she said.
Rodriguez has two daughters at Nathan Hale, in the second and fifth grades. Her son just graduated. She’s quickly become a familiar fixture at the neighborhood school.
“We’re glued at the hip! She’s here every day,” said Lucia Paolella, who’s in her third year as Nathan Hale’s principal.
Paolella and Rodriguez launched a regular breakfast called “Café Hale.” Each month, before parents come in to see student presentations, they’re invited into the hallway to the “Café,” which is arranged by parent volunteers. Parents chat with Paolella over coffee and baked goods, like Mrs. Kelly’s scones.
“We really try to keep the door open,” Paolella said.
Tips for a Full House
Starting last year, the PTO assigned a “parent rep” to each classroom. That parent maintains an email list of all the parents in the classroom. When report card night rolls around, the parents get alerts through their emails. In its second year, that system is “really rolling” now, Rodrigeuz said.
Parents also learned about report card night through a barrage of newsletters—from the principal, from each classroom teacher, and from the PTO president—sent home in children’s backpacks. All school correspondence is posted on the school’s website.
On report card night, parents walked in the door to see a hallway filled with presentations—band uniforms, chorus T-shirts, members of the local Boy Scout troop—and the PTO waiting to greet them. Fifteen to 20 parents volunteered to staff the school that night.
The PTO keeps relationships with parents through monthly meetings. Each meeting tackles a topic related to the curriculum. Parents who miss a meeting can catch up by grabbing a copy of the minutes, which are stacked among leaflets in the school’s front office. The meetings are well-attended: 40 showed up to the last one, which focused on school reform. The PTO has a strong fund-raising arm, with over $15,000 in the bank at the latest report.
One key to attendance at PTO meetings: Making them accessible, and fun, for students, through supervised activities in another room. For the group’s next meeting, Rodriguez has lined up a guest to lead students through an African drumming circle while their parents are talking shop. The menu helps, too; parents will be munching on soul food while they chat.
While Rodrigeuz was quick to credit fellow parents who make the events happen. Parents like Caroline Cicarella, who was waiting at the school to meet with her son’s teacher. She’s the head of the local Girl Scouts troop, which Rodriguez’s daughter attends.
“We have a really involved group of parents here,” said Cicarella, when asked about the school’s success. “There’s a community here.”
“A lot of it has to do with her,” she said, gesturing to Rodriguez. “It really does.”
posted by: Threefifths on February 10, 2010 3:36pm
FIX THE SCHOOLS
As this story points out, its time that we pay attention to the CHOICES that PARENTS make. Engaging parents will be THE way that we reform our system.
You right Engaging parents will be THE way that we reform our system’
Check these parents our.
School Vote Scene Report: Joel Klein Called “Racist,” Told to “Stop Looking at Your Goddamn Blackberry”
After a raucous night at Brooklyn Tech, where the school’s 2,800 auditorium seat was nearly filled to capacity with screaming parents, teachers and protesters, the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close 19 large public high schools. The decision came after nearly nine hours of testimony, much of it filled with rage, delivered by furious demonstrators and even a couple of sock puppets.
The PEP is a hallmark of what mayoral control means for the school system now. Mayor Bloomberg appoints eight of its members, and each Borough President appoints one. Most of the votes to close the schools went down eight to five.
We watched about the first seven hours of testimony from the hall, which was never dull. Before the final vote came at 2:40 in the morning, the overwhelming anger of the testimony was directed towards Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who sat onstage and suffered a marathon level of public humiliation rivaled only by Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“Racist!” screamed many in the crowd at Klein, mixing it up now and again with phrases like “My grandmother taught me to identify the Klu Klux Klan even when they weren’t wearing their hoods!” When Klein made the mistake of looking down during one woman’s testimony, he was greeted with shouts of “Stop looking at your goddamn Blackberry! How dare you?!”
At one point, two activist parents—Jane Hirschmann and Lisa Donlan—opened their testimony, saying that “since we were coming to a puppet show, we figured we’d bring a puppet show.” They proceeded to mock the PEP with actual puppets (pictured). “Have you listened to all of the parents and students?” one puppet asked the other. “Listen to parents and students? I was too busy on my Blackberry!”
One of the most contentious moments of the evening was when the head of NAACP of New York City was not allowed to finish her testimony. The audience wasn’t having it, and even though several later speakers tried to acquiesce their time time so that she could finish, the PEP would turn off their mics whenever they tried.
This drew one of the few audible rebukes from a member of the panel, when Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s appointee, angrily called out that the meeting was being improperly chaired by Secretary Michael Best (who is not a member of the panel), and not by its Chairman, David Chang.
“Michael, if you’re going to turn the mic off on the NAACP, have the mayor’s appointee do it!” screamed Sullivan at his fellow member. Eventually, they let the NAACP finish delivering their testimony.
The fear of many in the room is that when the city closes the large public schools, they will replace them with much smaller public and privately-run charter schools in the same building. Each of these will offer fewer classes and services, and will have incentives not to take on the hardest cases, like special education and ELL (English Language Learner) students. These students will be sent to an even bigger, more overcrowded school, the theory goes, where scores will go down, and which will then be closed, in an endless shell game.
The PEP was scheduled to also vote on the contentious issue of extending PAVE Academy’s charter within PS 15’s building in Red Hook. It is unclear from news reports at this time if they did.
Many of the elected officials who testified, including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, implored the PEP to at least postpone the vote and take time to consider the testimony, as well as to actually read the plans for improvement each school delivered to the Department of Education just a few days ago. When the vote on school closures finally came, not one of them was spared.
In early hours of the morning, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein both released statements commending the vote.
For those who want to see a superintendent who is a hero for parents and kids, watch this clip from Morning Joe on MSNBC.
And for those who want to learn from parents how to fight this take over by this Totalitarianism Admiinistration check this out.
Parents need to bring this back.
posted by: Threefifths on February 12, 2010 4:25pm
Oh, yes, SICKENING, “EXCUSES” like having to work at their minimum wage jobs with inflexible schedules, or not having transportation, or not having child care for their younger children. Or perhaps being treated like crap when the do show up to the school—both as children before and as parents now. YES, we do have to engage parents…for many reasons you clearly fail to understand.
I agree with you.In fact a friend of mine just send this to me.
Why Some Parents Don’t Come to School
Margaret Finders and Cynthia Lewis
Instead of assuming that absence means noncaring, educators must understand the barriers that hinder some parents from participating in their child’s education.
In our roles as teachers and as parents, we have been privy to the conversations of both teachers and parents. Until recently, however, we did not acknowledge that our view of parental involvement conflicts with the views of many parents. It was not until we began talking with parents in different communities that we were forced to examine our own deeply seated assumptions about parental involvement.
From talking with Latino parents and parents in two low-income Anglo neighborhoods, we have gained insights about why they feel disenfranchised from school settings. In order to include such parents in the educational conversation, we need to understand the barriers to their involvement from their vantage point, as that of outsiders. When asked, these parents had many suggestions that may help educators re-envision family involvement in the schools.
The Institutional Perspective
The institutional perspective holds that children who do not succeed in school have parents who do not get involved in school activities or support school goals at home. Recent research emphasizes the importance of parent involvement in promoting school success (Comer 1984, Lareau 1987). At the same time, lack of participation among parents of socially and culturally diverse students is also well documented (Clark 1983, Delgado-Gaitan 1991).
The model for family involvement, despite enormous changes in the reality of family structures, is that of a two-parent, economically self-sufficient nuclear family, with a working father and homemaker mother (David 1989). As educators, we talk about “the changing family,” but the language we use has changed little. The institutional view of nonparticipating parents remains based on a deficit model. “Those who need to come, don’t come,” a teacher explains, revealing an assumption that one of the main reasons for involving parents is to remediate them. It is assumed that involved parents bring a body of knowledge about the purposes of schooling to match institutional knowledge. Unless they bring such knowledge to the school, they themselves are thought to need education in becoming legitimate participants.
Administrators, too, frustrated by lack of parental involvement, express their concern in terms of a deficit model. An administrator expresses his bewilderment:
Our parent-teacher group is the foundation of our school programs…. This group (gestures to the all Anglo, all-women group seated in the library) is the most important organization in the school. You know, I just don’t understand why those other parents won’t even show up.
Discussions about family involvement often center on what families lack and how educators can best teach parents to support instructional agendas at home (Mansbach 1993). To revise this limited model for interaction between home and school, we must look outside of the institutional perspective.
The Voices of “Those Other Parents”
We asked some of “those other parents” what they think about building positive home/school relations. In what follows, parents whose voices are rarely heard at school explain how the diverse contexts of their lives create tensions that interfere with positive home/school relations. For them, school experiences, economic and time constraints, and linguistic and cultural practices have produced a body of knowledge about school settings that frequently goes unacknowledged.
Diverse school experiences among parents. Educators often don’t take into account how a parent’s own school experience may influence school relationships. Listen in as one father describes his son’s school progress:
They expect me to go to school so they can tell me my kid is stupid or crazy. They’ve been telling me that for three years, so why should I go and hear it again? They don’t do anything. They just tell me my kid is bad.
See, I’ve been there. I know. And it scares me. They called me a boy in trouble but I was a troubled boy. Nobody helped me because they liked it when I didn’t show up. If I was gone for the semester, fine with them. I dropped out nine times. They wanted me gone.
This father’s experiences created mistrust and prevent him from participating more fully in his son’s education. Yet, we cannot say that he doesn’t care about his son. On the contrary, his message is urgent.
For many parents, their own personal school experiences create obstacles to involvement. Parents who have dropped out of school do not feel confident in school settings. Needed to help support their families or care for siblings at home, these individuals’ limited schooling makes it difficult for them to help their children with homework beyond the early primary level. For some, this situation is compounded by language barriers and lack of written literacy skills. One mother who attended school through 6th grade in Mexico, and whose first language is Spanish, comments about homework that “sometimes we can’t help because it’s too hard.” Yet the norm in most schools is to send home schoolwork with little information for parents about how it should be completed.
Diverse economic and time constraints. Time constraints are a primary obstacle for parents whose work doesn’t allow them the autonomy and flexibility characteristic of professional positions. Here, a mother expresses her frustrations:
Teachers just don’t understand that I can’t come to school at just any old time. I think Judy told you that we don’t have a car right now…. Andrew catches a different bus than Dawn. He gets here a half an hour before her, and then I have to make sure Judy is home because I got three kids in three different schools. And I feel like the teachers are under pressure, and they’re turning it around and putting the pressure on me cause they want me to check up on Judy and I really can’t.
Often, parents work at physically demanding jobs, with mothers expected to take care of child-care responsibilities as well as school-related issues. In one mother’s words:
What most people don’t understand about the Hispanic community is that you come home and you take care of your husband and your family first. Then if there’s time you can go out to your meetings.
Other parents work nights, making it impossible to attend evening programs and difficult to appear at daytime meetings that interfere with family obligations and sleep.
At times, parents’ financial concerns present a major obstacle to participation in their child’s school activities. One mother expresses frustration that she cannot send eight dollars to school so her daughter can have a yearbook to sign like the other girls.
I do not understand why they assume that everybody has tons of money, and every time I turn around it’s more money for this and more money for that. Where do they get the idea that we’ve got all this money?
This mother is torn between the pressures of stretching a tight budget and wanting her daughter to belong. As is the case for others, economic constraints prevent her child from full participation in the culture of the school. This lack of a sense of belonging creates many barriers for parents.
Diverse linguistic and cultural practices. Parents who don’t speak fluent English often feel inadequate in school contexts. One parent explains that “an extreme language barrier” prevented her own mother from ever going to anything at the school. Cultural mismatches can occur as often as linguistic conflicts. One Latino educator explained that asking young children to translate for their parents during conferences grates against a cultural norm. Placing children in a position of equal status with adults creates dysfunction within the family hierarchy.
One mother poignantly expresses the cultural discomfort she feels when communicating with Anglo teachers and parents:
[In] the Hispanic culture and the Anglo culture things are done different and you really don’t know—am I doing the right thing? When they call me and say, `You bring the plates’ [for class parties], do they think I can’t do the cookies, too? You really don’t know.
Voicing a set of values that conflicts with institutional constructions of the parent’s role, a mother gives this culturally-based explanation for not attending her 12-year-old’s school functions:
It’s her education, not mine. I’ve had to teach her to take care of herself. I work nights, so she’s had to get up and get herself ready for school. I’m not going to be there all the time. She’s gotta do it. She’s a tough cookie…. She’s almost an adult, and I get the impression that they want me to walk her through her work. And it’s not that I don’t care either. I really do. I think it’s important, but I don’t think it’s my place.
This mother does not lack concern for her child. In her view, independence is essential for her daughter’s success.
Whether it is for social, cultural, linguistic, or economic reasons, these parents’ voices are rarely heard at school. Perhaps, as educators, we too readily categorize them as “those other parents” and fail to hear the concern that permeates such conversations. Because the experiences of these families vary greatly from our own, we operate on assumptions that interfere with our best intentions. What can be done to address the widening gap between parents who participate and those who don’t?
Getting Involved: Suggestions from Parents
Parents have many suggestions for teachers and administrators about ways to promote active involvement. Their views, however, do not always match the role envisioned by educators. Possessing fewer economic resources and educational skills to participate in traditional ways (Lareau 1987), these parents operate at a disadvantage until they understand how schools are organized and how they can promote systemic change (Delgado-Gaitan 1991).
If we’re truly interested in establishing a dialogue with the parents of all of our nation’s students, however, we need to understand what parents think can be done. Here are some of their suggestions.
Clarify how parents can help. Parents need to know exactly how they can help. Some are active in church and other community groups, but lack information about how to become more involved in their children’s schooling. One Latina mother explains that most of the parents she knows think that school involvement means attending school parties.
As Concha Delgado-Gaitan (1991) points out “... the difference between parents who participate and those who do not is that those who do have recognized that they are a critical part in their children’s education.” Many of the parents we spoke to don’t see themselves in this capacity.
Encourage parents to be assertive. Parents who do see themselves as needed participants feel strongly that they must provide their children with a positive view of their history and culture not usually presented at school.
Some emphasize the importance of speaking up for their children. Several, for instance, have argued for or against special education placement or retention for their children; others have discussed with teachers what they saw as inappropriate disciplinary procedures. In one parent’s words:
Sometimes kids are taken advantage of because their parents don’t fight for them. I say to parents, if you don’t fight for your child, no one’s going to fight for them.
Although it may sound as if these parents are advocating adversarial positions, they are simply pleading for inclusion. Having spent much time on the teacher side of these conversations, we realize that teachers might see such talk as challenging their positions as professional decision makers. Yet, it is crucial that we expand the dialogue to include parent knowledge about school settings, even when that knowledge conflicts with our own.
Develop trust. Parents affirm the importance of establishing trust. One mother attributes a particular teacher’s good turnout for parent/teacher conferences to her ability to establish a “personal relationship” with parents. Another comments on her need to be reassured that the school is open, that it’s OK to drop by “anytime you can.”
In the opportunities we provide for involvement, we must regularly ask ourselves what messages we convey through our dress, gestures, and talk. In one study, for example, a teacher described her school’s open house in a middle-class neighborhood as “a cocktail party without cocktails” (Lareau 1987). This is the sort of “party” that many parents wouldn’t feel comfortable attending.
Fear was a recurrent theme among the parents we interviewed: fear of appearing foolish or being misunderstood, fear about their children’s academic standing. One mother explained:
Parents feel like the teachers are looking at you, and I know how they feel, because I feel like that here. There are certain things and places where I still feel uncomfortable, so I won’t go, and I feel bad, and I think maybe it’s just me.
This mother is relaying how it feels to be culturally, linguistically, and ethnically different. Her body of knowledge does not match the institutional knowledge of the school and she is therefore excluded from home/school conversations.
Build on home experiences. Our assumptions about the home environments of our students can either build or sever links between home and school. An assumption that “these kids don’t live in good environments” can destroy the very network we are trying to create. Too often we tell parents what we want them to do at home with no understanding of the rich social interaction that already occurs there (Keenan et al. 1993). One mother expresses her frustrations:
Whenever I go to school, they want to tell me what to do at home. They want to tell me how to raise my kid. They never ask me what I think. They never ask me anything.
When we asked parents general questions about their home activities and how these activities might build on what happens at school, most thought there was no connection. They claimed not to engage in much reading and writing at home, although their specific answers to questions contradicted this belief. One mother talks about her time at home with her teenage daughter:
My husband works nights and sometimes she sleeps with me…. We would lay down in bed and discuss the books she reads.
Many of the parents we spoke to mentioned Bible reading as a regular family event, yet they did not see this reading in relation to schoolwork. In one mother’s words:
I read the Bible to the children in Spanish, but when I see they’re not understanding me, I stop (laughing). Then they go and look in the English Bible to find out what I said.
Although the Bible is not a text read at public schools, we can build on the literacy practices and social interactions that surround it. For instance, we can draw upon a student’s ability to compare multiple versions of a text. We also can include among the texts we read legends, folktales, and mythology—literature that, like the Bible, is meant to teach us about our strengths and weaknesses as we strive to make our lives meaningful.
As teachers, of course, we marvel at the way in which such home interactions do, indeed, support our goals for learning at school; but we won’t know about these practices unless we begin to form relationships with parents that allow them to share such knowledge.
Use parent expertise. Moll (1992) underscores the importance of empowering parents to contribute “intellectually to the development of lessons.” He recommends assessing the “funds of knowledge” in the community, citing a teacher who discovered that many parents in the Latino community where she taught had expertise in the field of construction. Consequently, the class developed a unit on construction, which included reading, writing, speaking, and building, all with the help of responsive community experts—the children’s parents.
Parents made similar suggestions—for example, cooking ethnic foods with students, sharing information about multicultural heritage, and bringing in role models from the community. Latino parents repeatedly emphasized that the presence of more teachers from their culture would benefit their children as role models and would help them in home/school interactions.
Parents also suggested extending literacy by writing pen pal letters with students or involving their older children in tutoring and letter writing with younger students. To help break down the barriers that language differences create, one parent suggested that bilingual and monolingual parents form partnerships to participate in school functions together.
An Invitation for Involvement
Too often, the social, economic, linguistic, and cultural practices of parents are represented as serious problems rather than valued knowledge. When we reexamine our assumptions about parental absence, we may find that our interpretations of parents who care may simply be parents who are like us, parents who feel comfortable in the teacher’s domain.
Instead of operating on the assumption that absence translates into non-caring, we need to focus on ways to draw parents into the schools. If we make explicit the multiple ways we value the language, culture, and knowledge of the parents in our communities, parents may more readily accept our invitations.
Clark, R. M. (1983). Family Life and School Achievement: Why Poor Black Children Succeed or Fail. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Comer, J. P. (1984). “Homeschool Relationships as They Affect the Academic Success of Children.” Education and Urban Society 16: 323–337.
David, M. E. (1989). “Schooling and the Family.” In Critical Pedagogy, the State, and Cultural Struggle, edited by H. Giroux and P. McLaren. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. (1991). “Involving Parents in the Schools: A Process of Empowerment.” American Journal of Education 100: 20–46.
Keenan, J. W., J. Willett, and J. Solsken. (1993). “Constructing an Urban Village: School/Home Collaboration in a Multicultural Classroom.” Language Arts 70: 204–214.
Lareau, A. (1987). “Social Class Differences in Family-School Relationships: The Importance of Cultural Capital.” Sociology of Education 60: 73–85.
Mansbach, S. C. (February/March 1993). “We Must Put Family Literacy on the National Agenda.” Reading Today: 37.
Moll, L. (1992). “Bilingual Classroom Studies and Community Analysis: Some Recent Trends.” Educational Researcher 21: 20–24.
So now we have to engage parents? Are you kidding or what? Any parent that doesn’t take an active interest in their child’s education should have their child taken away. Parents shouldn’t have to be persuaded to come to parent-teacher conferences. Another thing: Parents have plenty of notice of such conferences. Unfortunately, they have plenty of EXCUSES why they don’t attend.
I have a Grandmother on my block who has both of her grandchildren who parents are being deploy to Iraq. She has Osteoarthritis and use a walker and Rheumatoid arthritis in her hands. You expect this womman to come up to the school. I also see people on my block who are laid off and some of them have take jobs in other states and come home on the weekend. If fact I have two children staying with me cause there parents are in Iraq.So don’t judge