Getting Involved With School

Previously printed in Nola Family & Baby, updated September 24, 2019

Reading, writing, and ’rents. Any involvement with your child’s school is a win-win.

When it comes to a parent’s interaction with her child’s school, the prevailing attitude seems to be more is more. How does all the snack-bringing, parent-teacher conference-attending, room-mothering, and nighttime reading add up to a better student and better school? And what efforts pack the biggest punch?

Whether working full-time outside of the home, or as a full-time, stay-at-home mom, anyone involved in her child’s school will tell you it’s a balancing act. The planning, the preparation, and the commitment are all investments of time on the part of mom and dad. Those investments can have a powerful payoff.

When first broaching the subject of parental involvement in school, Kay Higginbotham, head of the Academy of the Sacred Heart’s Preschool and Lower School, immediately uses the word ‘relationship.’ “We focus on the relationships between people. We strive for good, healthy conversations with parents and among peer parents, so that relationships are built and actively nurtured. This is something that goes beyond who’s going to bring the cookies and juice.”

Sharing in this approach, Toots Villeré, Sacred Heart’s Preschool Director, says that there is “a level of respect between teachers and parents as well as among the parenting community, and these partnerships are so valuable. Each must respect the role of the other and trust we want what is best for the child.”

Welcoming parental participation, Higginbotham points to specific examples of the most constructive ways parents can be involved in their child’s education. “We invite our parents to actively participate in what the children are learning, like our Math Boot Camp, where parents come in and do the math with the kids. We also like our parents to be aware of the topics their children are discussing, so that they can engage them in conversations regarding those subjects, or share an expertise with the class.”

Attendance Not Required

As far as making it to every single school event, the consensus seems to be that this is not the end all, be all of parental involvement. Although these administrators like to give as much notice as possible for upcoming events, they understand mom and dad can’t make it to everything. In fact, as Villeré points out, “I attended every field trip with my son’s class before I realized it was healthy and necessary for him to be in a group with another parent and experience a different dynamic.”

This should come as a relief to all those moms and dads who are beating themselves up over missing a field trip. For parents working either in or out of the home, it’s perfectly okay to sit a few out, or let someone else participate in a school event. What does matter is that parents are aware and engaged, whatever their hectic schedules demand of them. “Involvement can take many forms,” says Villere .

As the owner of NOLA Pilates in Lakeview and the mother of three boys, Kim Munoz knows this balancing act all too well. When asked how she keeps up with her 17-year- old son, Tyler, and her six-year-old twin boys, Maxwell and Jordan, she stresses, “Lots of planning! My husband, Jamie, and I sit down once a month to plan our schedules.”

Kim explains that in her family, “everyone takes ownership, even my older son and mother-in-law.” Although this constant commitment can be consuming, Kim believes their efforts are well worth it. “The more involved the parents, the more attention the kids get from their teachers, because if the parents aren’t attentive, the kids are distracted, too.” However she is quick to joke that they are no Brady Bunch, laughing about how she once forgot to pack lunches for the boys’ field trip.

Elizabeth*, a stay-at-home mom in Metairie, shares Kay’s approach of taking ownership and accountability with her children’s schooling by taking the opportunity to speak with their teachers frequently.

“Teachers know who you are and you have a report with them,” she says. “When report cards come out, it’s not a surprise.”

Elizabeth is very hands-on with her children’s education, volunteering her time in the classroom, and believes that the parents’ participation in school is essential to their children feeling at home and comfortable in their school environment. “I don’t remember my parents at school this much,” she says, “but schools now need and want our help.”

But even home full-time, Elizabeth admits, “I don’t always know that I’m doing the right thing, either. It’s hard no matter what.”

Head of the Class

Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University writes, “There are many reasons for developing school, family, and community partnerships…The main reason to create such partnerships is to help youngsters succeed in school and in later life.”

In a study conducted in 2001 by Michigan’s Department of Education, 86 percent of the general public surveyed believed that support from parents was the most important way to improve schools. And with statistics showing that family participation in education was twice as predictive of a student’s success as family socioeconomic status, they have the numbers to back them up.

Perhaps the most revealing statistics were demonstrated by the Harvard Family Research Project’s Parental Involvement and Student achievement Meta-Analysis. The results, drawing from 77 studies, found that the most consistent predictor of a child’s academic achievement and social adjustment are parental expectation and satisfaction with their child’s school. Simply put, parents of high-achieving students set higher standards and are on the same page with their child’s school. In fact, the academic advantage of student’s whose parents were more actively involved is demonstrated by a .5 to .6 higher standard deviation for overall grade point average, across economic, social, ethnic, and religious lines.

So, be it a “muffins with mommy” day or simply putting your child’s math skills to use in the grocery store, the consensus is in. Taking an active role in your child’s education can take many forms, but the common denominator is setting the standard for achievement and providing them nurturing support.

*Last name withheld by request.

Lauren McCullough, a freelance writer and owner of Southern Philosophy, is a native New Orleanian and a mother.

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