Cross-posted from the Families on the Home Front blog.
When I received an email about ParentCampUSA from my Managing Partner with the subject line “GO TO THIS,” I RSVP’d immediately. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to a camp for parents at the Department of Education? As I read more about the objective for ParentCampUSA, I realized I could not pass up the opportunity to go to a conference dedicated to helping me become more engaged in my children’s education. Really? Someone out there besides me thinks I should be engaged with the system that is responsible for my children’s road to success? Count me in!!
Truth be told I know schools want parents to be engaged in their children’s learning as well as active at their children’s school. As a school psychologist and a parent of school-aged kids, I feel I have a solid understanding of what parent engagement should be and why it is important. What I sometimes struggle with are the When, Where, and Hows of parent engagement in schools. This may be because as a military family we have moved eight times in 16 years, and when my oldest child started 7th grade, he was starting his 9th school. Transitioning between schools so frequently makes it difficult to get involved – to engage – because it isn’t always clear how a school promotes parent engagement beyond typical volunteering roles. I have found that if I take the initiative and approach educators with ideas for helping at the school they are receptive. It could be suggested if schools took the initiative to engage parents on multiple levels and invite them to schools, parents would dive in and get involved!
I went to ParentCampUSA to learn more about this initiative and determine how I can play a role in encouraging other military families to engage with their schools and learn ways to increase Parent Engagement in my school community. I left ParentCampUSA with a sense of empowerment and have already started reaching out to the school community. Keep these following takeaways from ParentCampUSA in mind if you want to join, or start, the conversation on When, Where and How you can improve Parent Engagement at your school.
- Parent Engagement is about building a relationship between educators and families by connecting parents to the school in ways that have nothing to do with volunteering and everything to do with empowering families to play a major role in their child’s education.
- Parents are stakeholders in the education system their children are in and entitled to a seat at the table, a voice in the discussion, and a vote in decision-making.
- Parent Engagement efforts should be based on the needs of the families at the school. Many schools have subgroups of students with specific needs, and their parents have specific needs as well. For example, a school with military connected students should be engaging those parents at the school level, learning about their unique needs, and collaborating with these families to better meet those needs. (Note: These steps may be taken for any subgroup including ESL, immigrant populations, homeless families, families with special needs children, etc.)
- Schools would benefit from providing the framework for parent groups. Let the schools act as the center of the community and bring parents and teachers together to discuss hot topics they are facing raising and teaching children in today’s world. Schools can bring in experts from the field from whom parents and educators alike can learn from.
I went to ParentCampUSA and put on my military family lens to determine how I can better connect the military community with the school community. I strongly believe the way to do this is to encourage parents and educators to partner together and determine When, Where and How improving Parent Engagement in a school takes place. If you are interested in bringing a ParentCampUSA to Northern VA, contact us, and we will work together to do so. If you are interested in exploring the unique needs of military families and want to include this in an upcoming ParentCamp, contact Families on the Home Front, we will help, we’re in this together!
Becky Harris is managing director of Families on the Home Front.