Our school has deep budget cuts, so my wife and I decided to volunteer this year. We called our son’s school to ask how we could use our skills. (We’re both engineers.) The school secretary told us to help the PTA fund-raise. Selling cookie dough wasn’t what we had in mind. We’d like to mentor in our middle school but don’t know how to get in the door. Any suggestions?
More parents are raising their hands this year as schools face fewer resources and higher expectations for student achievement. A new GreatSchools/Harris Interactive study indicates that 64 percent of parents believe that, because of the recession, it is more important for them to volunteer at school now than before.
More than half of parents, 53 percent, plan to volunteer at their children’s school, up from 44 percent last year, a 20 percent increase. “The trend is most pronounced among African American parents, 60 percent of whom plan to volunteer, a nearly threefold increase from the 23 percent who say they volunteered last year,” says Bill Jackson, president of GreatSchools.
There is ample evidence that when kids see their parents involved at school, they get better grades and test scores, have better attendance and behavior and enter college at higher rates. Involved parents not only improve the performance of their own children, they have a positive school-wide effect.
When administrators pigeonhole parents into fund-raising roles, or ignore their offers altogether, they miss out on game-changing ways to boost school quality, says Jackson. “While this is the worst recession in 70 years, helping the school sell more wrapping paper won’t add much value. Parents need to reinvent their involvement, and schools must remove barriers and create a menu of opportunities to tap parent power.”
How can you ramp up your involvement? Move the needle three ways, says Jackson.
First, as an individual. With mentoring an interest and engineering your profession, Jackson suggests contacting math and science teachers to offer help showing students how what they learn in class translates to the world outside. This could entail work-site visits, tutoring, introducing students to a range of science, math, technology and engineering professions, guiding students to high school courses that will open doors to college scholarships, or helping coach the robotics team or a science club.
Second, as part of a school-quality task force. “When parents band together, they add heft to the push for high standards,” says Jackson. “You might form a standards committee; work with educators on how to use data to improve performance; communicate priorities to other parents; or guide the school in making cuts. Should you cut sports equipment or art classes? Parents can provide important input to these decisions.”
Third, teach parents to advocate for their child and navigate the school’s resources. “In California, the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) has taught thousands of parents how to work with educators to keep their children on track,” notes Jackson. “Their goal isn’t to tell teachers what to do. It’s to meet monthly about a child’s instructional plan. It’s hard for a student to veer off course when both teacher and parent are checking his progress every four weeks.”
Parents have enormous leverage, notes Jackson. “Don’t wait for the school to enlist you. In a spirit of collaboration, find gaps you think you can fill and offer up your own ideas for involvement.”
For more ways to become involved in your child’s school, go to GreatSchools.