U for Parent Participation

Visit an elementary school at 10 in the morning in the middle of the week for a 3rd grade dance festival and you’d be lucky to find viewing space on the playground, standing among parents with cell phones and iPads extended out in order to record the event.

Fast forward to a high school Back to School Night (BTSN) and there are more empty chairs than ones filled with parents.

In the current climate of data collection and analysis, one would think that today’s school districts would compile statistics on how many parents attend these events.   Perhaps it is because the numbers would not look good.

When my wife and I went to our youngest son’s BTSN, I felt sadness for the tiny empty chairs with no parents in them, especially because the parents were asked to leave behind a handwritten note of encouragement for their child to read the next morning.   How would those kids react to a bare desktop when arriving to school?

At a recent Recruitment Night for the 8th grade parents of children who will soon attend my high school about a few dozen showed up.

Over a hundred current high school students and faculty were in attendance.

There are 450 8th graders at the local middle school; if 45 families were present that night, that would translate to a 10% return, with 90% no-shows.

This was a night for parents to find out what the neighboring high school has to offer their children, arguably the most critical 4 years of the K-12 educational journey, the years that greatly impact future success in college.

What message does it send to children when their parents don’t make an effort to care about their next four years of schooling?

There was no award show on TV that night, the Super Bowl was already over, and the Winter Olympics were a week away.

Sure some parents had to work, and some didn’t want to leave the house because it was drizzling that evening.   But what excuses the rest of them?

Flyers were distributed, info was prominently displayed on the website, and robocalls made.

Think of all the dedicated high school administrators, teachers, students, and support staff who sacrificed a couple of hours of their evening not eating dinner with their own families in order to provide critical information to their children’s success.

Students who had to get dressed in their pep team outfits, the marching band who had to carry the tubas and drums, the teachers from all departments packing and carrying materials to set up tables, then re-packing and returning the materials.

This was quite an effort.

Where were the parents?

At my most recent BTSN as a teacher, 44 parents showed up representing less than one-third of the 150 students I have.   And I teach advanced classes.

I polled my students to discover why their parents were absent. Some said that parents didn’t know their way around campus, all the more reason for schools to encourage students to attend BTSN (schools prefer parents only at BTSN unlike Open House).

It makes sense for children to accompany their parents in the middle and high school grades when one must locate 6 different classrooms with barely a handful of minutes between passing periods.   Those parents with limited English skills could use their children’s help translating for them as well.

However, the most common reason given for parents not attending BTSN was that they “didn’t have the time.”

Yes, conflicts with jobs and child care may arise.   Yet all schools are asking is for parents to support their children twice a year. If a parent cannot commit to even do that, then it is quite discouraging.

Schools should consider holding report cards as carrots to encourage parents to come to BTSN.

At the elementary school level, parents schedule conferences with the teacher and go over a child’s report card.   This is doable due to the elementary school teacher having only one class all day.

It is not feasible for secondary school teachers who have 35 students in 5 classes totaling 175 to have one-on-one conferences. Even if an in-person meeting is scheduled for no more than 5 minutes, it would take 15 hours to hold all those meetings.

By distributing report cards in the child’s first period class, parents would get in hand their children’s grades and could sign-up for a conference as they make their rounds from classroom to classroom.

A study done by the National Center for Education Statistics from the mid-1990s showed that parent attendance at teacher conferences was higher than any other school event including Back to School and Open House nights.

Additionally, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory discovered in their 2002 study, A New Wave of Evidence, that when parents get involved with their children’s schooling, kids have fewer absences and higher grades.

Schools traditionally grapple with student absenteeism, but parent absenteeism is more detrimental to a child’s academic success.

Children learn from their parents, and if parents aren’t involved with their children’s education, then the children likewise won’t be involved.

Educators can be staff developed on Common Core standards until they are blue in the face, taxpayers can pay higher property taxes to place iPads in the hands of students, but there is a limit to what schools can do for kids.   More parents need to show interest and take an active role.

The saying used to be that it takes a village to raise a child.   But that village cannot thrive without the citizenry of parents.

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