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America Goes Back to School: Creating Parent-Community-School Partnerships

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Although much has been written about the value of parent participation in schools and creating effective community-school partnerships, many parents and teachers still wonder what this means for their child or school community. What might be expected of the parents regarding activities, responsibilities, and volunteer time? What is expected of the teacher or the principal? Is the school staff still "in charge" of the classroom and school operations, or does their responsibility diminish with increased parent-community involvement? How do children respond to having increased parent participation? What does a school with active parent participation look like?

While the research supporting the benefits of parent, family, and community involvement in schools is overwhelmingly positive (Hendersen & Berla, 1995), it is often difficult for parents and school staff to visualize how their school might change, what programs might be implemented, or how each individual might perform his or her role a little differently. In 1995, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Richard W. Riley, launched the America Goes Back to School campaign to help all Americans identify ways that they can increase active parent participation and strengthen teaching and learning in local schools.

America Goes Back to School has now become an annual effort, and a growing number of schools are beginning to see the benefits of active parent and community partnerships. Secretary Riley and the Partnership for Family Involvement invites everyone to get involved in this year's initiative, particularly during the period of August through October. The 1998 challenge encourages parent and community participation in the following areas:

* leading efforts to modernize schools and reduce class size;

* teaching children how to avoid violence, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco;

* helping teachers and students obtain and use technology;

* spending time mentoring a child in mathematics;

* starting or expanding an after-school or summer reading program; and

* helping children prepare for college early.

The America Goes Back to School Web sitehttp://www.ed.gov/Family/agbts/ features a variety of examples of programs that have been implemented in local schools through the efforts of parents, businesses, colleges and universities, or local elected officials. For example, in Seattle, Washington at Lyndale Elementary School, parents and staff teamed to develop a computer lab for families that do not have home computer access. The lab is open in the late afternoon or evening hours so that parents and children can work together. Other local initiatives include:

Block parent meetings at Buhrer Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio, where teachers go off-campus to meet with parents in students' homes, or in a nearby library or community center.

Mentor Parents were trained in Stockton, California and provided more than 5,000 hours of service by working as volunteers in the schools and helping improve family-school communication.

Read*Write*Now! in Rockford, Illinois is a partnership between the Mayor's office, the Rockford public schools, and the city's public libraries. Students in grades 1 to 3 who are not reading at grade level are given a library card, paired with an adult tutor, encouraged to read daily, and tutored weekly.

Better Education is Everyone's Business is taken to heart by the Hemmings Motor News of Bennington, Vermont. This business encourages its employees to schedule time off, with pay, to volunteer in local schools or at academic activities.

There are many other examples of programs and volunteer activities, but since each community is slightly different, programs should be tailored to serve local families and students. For more information about America Goes Back to School and to obtain your Partners' Activity Kit please contact:

The Partnership for Family Involvement in Education
Telephone: 800-USA-LEARN
Internet: http://www.ed.gov/Family/agbts/

Other related resources to assist with building school partnerships:

National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
330 N. Wabash Ave., Suite 2100
Chicago, IL 60611-3690
Telephone: 312-670-6782
Internet: http://www.pta.org

Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships
Johns Hopkins University
3505 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21218
Telephone: 410-516-8800
Internet: http://scov.csos.jhu.edu/p2000

Institute for Responsive Education
Northeastern University
50 Nightingale Hall
Boston, MA 02115
Telephone: 617-373-2595
Internet: http://www.resp-ed.org/index.html

Sources

Davies, Don. (1997). Partners for student success. Parent News [Online]. Available: http://npin.org/pnews/pnew297/pnew297b.html [1997, February].

Henderson, Anne T., & Berla, Nancy. (1995). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Education.
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