By JB Clark
Research shows parent involvement in schools boosts students’ academic performance, but many schools have trouble finding a way to bring parents in.
That’s particularly true for families in poverty, often headed by single mothers who may be intimidated by the school environment.
Verona Elementary School Principal Temeka Shannon said parents are hesitant to become involved in her school and she often has to remind them over and over of ways they can participate.
“When parents come in, some think people are looking at them and judging them because they’re not doing their part at home,” Shannon said. “It has nothing to do with judging and everything to do with that child receiving a quality education.”
Parent resource centers are a way both Lee County and Tupelo schools try to involve parents in their child’s education.
Verona Elementary School is home to Lee County’s parent resource center and the Early Childhood Education Center is home to Tupelo’s. Each allows parents to check out games, manipulatives and reading materials and use media center computers so their children can get extra instruction at home.
Shannon said in a low-socioeconomic school, a parent resource center isn’t just a great resource but a necessity.
“An overwhelming number of our parents don’t have transportation and can’t get to the Lee County Library so having it right here in their community makes it easier,” Shannon said. “We have computers set up because some of our parents take courses online and we’ll let them come in and use the computer to do that course or for a job application.”
She said parents who take advantage of the center are more involved in the school and their student’s education.
Mary Ann Plasencia, community liaison for Tupelo Schools, said they would like to see the resource center used more often.
“We’re trying to spread the word that it’s available,” she said. “We would like to see Hispanic families that know their students need additional help with language development and we really would like to see families that don’t have kids at ECEC.”
One way Shannon promotes the use of the resource center is through Verona Elementary’s parent meetings.
“If we have a student academically on the brink, we will call the parents in for a meeting to help the child,” Shannon said. “We’ll have meetings in the resource center and recommend things for the parents to check out and show them how the system works.”
In Tupelo Schools, Plasencia said kindergarten through second grade teachers are asked to meet with each student’s parents twice a year and go over five specific indicators.
“It kind of gives a parent an idea of how (their) kid is doing throughout the year,” she said. “I think that way they are more likely to ask questions when the students got home. It was an opportunity during that meeting to say, ‘Johnny is struggling with math. Here are his scores. There are couple of things you might want to do with Johnny next time you’re at the grocery store or at home cooking to help learn these strategies.’ ”
Plasencia said it is difficult for parents to talk about school with their children if they don’t know what their children study each day. Tupelo Schools’ online learning systems, Classworks for kindergarten through eighth grade, Haiku for grades six through 12 and Active Parent, give parents access to their student’s daily schoolwork as well as interaction with teachers.
“Emailing the teacher when (my daughter) was young, I think made her more accountable the older she got because I knew what was happening,” Plasencia said.
Tupelo Schools now require students with repetitive disciplinary problems to have a conference with their parents and school staff before returning to school.
“It’s a principal and teacher sitting down with the parent and child and saying, ‘We’ve got to come up with a better plan,’” Plasencia said. “That’s an engagement on the parent’s side that’s pretty concrete.”
She said disciplinary referrals have decreased 10.5 percent since the implementation of the meetings.
Lawhon Elementary School Principal Corlis Curry said whatever way parents choose to get involved, their involvement is vital for the success of the students.
“The way I was taught in school was totally different from what’s taught now,” she said. “Students are asked to think conceptually and abstractly. For a lot of people that is intimidating but I want parents to know they can call us. It’s very important – vital for parents to know what’s going on in the classroom.”