ParentCamp International: Engaging Leaders from Immigrant Communities

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

When I first heard about the first ParentCamp International, I knew I had to be there! As a Hispanic/Latina mother of a son receiving Special Education services and who works closely with international families in schools, I felt I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet decision makers in our educational system and share stories and experiences of our groups.

It was an eventful day! In addition to hearing from representatives of the White House, Justice Department and Secretary of Education John King, we were able to network and share stories during many breakout group sessions, which were incredibly meaningful.

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Top 5 Ways to Prevent Rusty Summer Readers

With summer vacation started or on its way, as parents or guardians, it’s important to ensure that reading remains on your child’s schedule even while school is out. Reading over the summer is important not only because it improves literacy and language skills, but also because it prevents what has become known as the “summer slide”—a regression in reading ability.

A student reads a bookStudies show that children who don’t read or who read rarely over the summer encounter a stagnation or decline in their reading skills.

With that in mind, here are five of the best ways to keep your child reading this summer:

  1. Let your child choose what they want to read – or be read to – for 30 minutes each day. Children are much more likely to engage in material that interests them rather than materials that are forced on them.
  2. Use language and reading opportunities throughout the day.  Talk often with your child and point out reading materials wherever possible:  on menus, magazines and newspapers, signs, brochures, maps, guidebooks, smartphones, ipads, etc.
  3. Make daily reading a social event. Get the whole family to join in with their own books or take turns reading the same book aloud. Include telling stories as well.
  4. Connect reading to other summer events. If you take your child to the zoo, think about reading a book about animals before and afterward. This will place your child’s reading within a larger context.
  5. Make reading a lifestyle choice. Keep books all around the house to cultivate an atmosphere of reading, and set an example by reading yourself. Children need good models of reading books, magazines, or newspapers.

Madison Killen is a student at the University of California Berkeley and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Affording College? Maybe it IS a reality!

Ed. Note: Chanda Kropp is a high school Spanish teacher in Hutchinson, Minn., and a 2010 Mom Congress Delegate. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall in Minneapolis.

I must admit, the thought has crossed my mind many times of how my children will ever afford college with the current tuition rates. My dream is that my two wonderful children will attend the college of their choice, whether it is a public school, a private school or a school with out-of-state tuition. As a teacher, I value education and believe it opens so many doors. However, if reality means that a college student’s loan repayment is as much as her mortgage, I worry!

Piggy BankMy concern changed to optimism last week as I sat with many South Minneapolis high school students, the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and many other distinguished local dignitaries for a town hall on college affordability. Hearing Secretary Duncan say that $40 billion dollars is currently being invested in Pell Grants and that the administration wants to expand its income based student loan repayment program, makes me incredibly happy!

A recent law signed by President Obama allows new borrowers who receive student loans after July 1, 2014, to cap their student loan repayments at 10 percent of their discretionary income. If the borrower keeps up with his or her payments over time, the balance will be forgiven after 20 years. Public service workers – such as teachers, nurses, and those in military service – will see any remaining debt forgiven after 10 years. Additionally, the administration is proposing to move up the 2014 start date to 2012 for some borrowers.

I’m hopeful that the combination of Pell Grants and reasonable loan repayment schedules will be a winning formula for all students in America. The United States once led the world with the percentage of students attending college; we have now slipped to 16th place. That simply will not be acceptable if we want to compete in a global market. America’s children should be concentrating on their academic degrees, not their degree of debt!

Chanda Kropp

Roundtable Highlights Importance of Fathers’ Involvement in Education

Cross-posted from

Fathers, uncles, male mentors, grandfathers, brothers, and community leaders recently gathered at the Café at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Chicago, IL to share what men can do to increase their involvement and support in the lives of their children—especially their education.

The Department of Education (ED) was honored to sponsor the event alongside other federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services as well as father serving organizations such as Black Star Project, Watch D.O.G.S., the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and Real Men Charities.

Approximately 45 men attended from multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds. A panel of fathers and experts shared their experiences and research that affirmed the positive role of fathers in the lives of their children. Panelist Dexter Chaney, one of ED’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows and a Chicago assistant principal, explained a principal’s perspective on parental involvement. In his remarks, he linked parental involvement to ED’s efforts to motivate parents to be partners in their children’s learning. Other panelist included

  • Kenith Bergeron, U.S. Department of Justice;
  • Norris Stevenson, IL Department of Healthcare and Family Services;
  • Elliot Mark, Family Resource Center on Disabilities;
  • Walter Jones, Fathers Who Care;
  • Kirk Harris, Fathers on Healthy Communities Initiative;
  • Carl West, MG Media/Truth B Told News Service; and
  • Ian Stroud, Citywide American Indian Education Council.

Participants at the Roundtable, Café at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Chicago, IL

One young father, in his late teens, said the message should be “taken to the street.” He shared his feelings of isolation without a job and family supports. The group challenged this young man to return with his friends to a follow-up meeting. Attendees also challenged each other to go to their neighbors and friends encouraging them to become involved.

As a result of this session, monthly meetings will be held to continue the dialogue. A larger Fathers Forum is scheduled for May 5, 2012 at Odgen School in Chicago, IL.

Shirley Jones serves within the Department of Education Office of Communications and Outreach for the Great Lakes Region.

How Can Parents and Teachers Partner to Improve Student Achievement?

Secretary Duncan often repeats the call that parents need to be in full partnership with teachers in learning and understanding, making the education of their child a shared responsibility that includes teachers, parents and students.

For teachers– whose schedules are often quite full—finding ways to engage and partner with parents can seem overwhelming. Secretary Duncan recently took to Twitter to hear directly from teachers on the most effective ways to build partnerships with families and communities. Arne received an overwhelming response from teachers across the country, and most who responded felt communication early in the year and positive communication throughout the year were beneficial ways to partner with parents, families, and communities.

Below are just a few of the responses from teachers who suggested ways in which the school may effectively build partnerships with parents, families, and communities.

Incorporating these suggestions may add just a few more minutes to a teacher’s day, but will bring about benefits to the student-teacher-parent relationship that will last a lifetime.

Follow Arne on Twitter here, or sign up to receive a daily email with a summary of ED and Arne’s tweets.

Carrie Jasper

Carrie Jasper works in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Providing Meaningful Family-School Relationships

During ED’s back-to-school bus tour, Secretary Duncan stated that, “parents have to be part of the solution. Parental engagement must help increase student achievement.” To accomplish this goal, the department is spanning the country to host parent forums in partnership with states, districts, schools, organizations, associations, colleges, universities and businesses.

A parent arrives at the Garland parent forum.

Parents Arrive at the Garland Parent Forum

In late October, ED joined the Garland Independent School District in Garland, Texas, and the Garland Area Alliance of Black School Educators for a parent forum to provide parents with information, strategies, and resources to help increase their child’s educational achievement. A few of the tips on how parents can be part of the solution discussed during the forum include:

    • Listen to your children. Develop a closer relationship with your children by giving them your full attention.  Listen to his/her conversation.  They may reveal concerns and fears of which you are not aware.
    • Ask for help from the classroom teacher. There may be subject topics you and your child need clarification.  Call or write the teacher for an appointment where you both can receive assistance.
    • Email your child’s teacher if your child is having a problem. An email provides documentation of contact. Long emails are dreaded and often not read.  Keep them concise and clear.
    • For teachers, administrators, and school support staff, be sensitive to the needs of the parents. There may be some parents who speak no or very little English.  Find ways to reach out to those parents. They, too, wish to be partners in their child’s learning.

Over 500 parents, community and faith-based representatives, and school district personnel attended the forum. One administrator who attended the forum stated that the forum had prompted him “to do more. I need to thank my parents more for the things they do [at school and at home].”

Secretary Duncan is in Mason, Ohio, today to hold discussions with parents and school officials about programs to promote excellence in education, expand job growth and invest in the economy.

Carrie Jasper

Carrie Jasper works in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Empowering Parents in Full Partnership

As Secretary Duncan has said, “I want all parents to be real partners in education with their children’s teachers…Parents can serve in at least one of three roles: Partners in learning; advocates and advisors who push for better schools; and decision-makers who choose the best educational options for their children.”

Parent Teacher ConferenceED recently held a Northwest parent forum to help empower parents and to allow parents to share strategies and experiences regarding their successful education partnerships. The forum, a first for Seattle, Wash., took place at Cleveland High School in Seattle, with the support of Seattle Public Schools, the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators and the ED’s Northwest regional office. 

Some of the tips for a successful education partnership include:

    • Become a class parent. You’ll develop a closer relationship with the teacher and will get an inside look into what goes on in the classroom, usually without having to commit a ton of time.
    • Invite the teacher to visit your home for tea or coffee or just to say hello.
    • Find out the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher, and keep in touch by phone and/or email as much as possible.

Almost 200 parents, community and faith-based representatives and school district personnel attended the forum.  The forum included a diverse audience made possible by Seattle School District interpreters for Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese, among other languages.

The forum provided training, resources and encouragement to parents seeking to help their child achieve, as well as ideas for parent’s to effectively communicate with teachers and administrators. Presenters shared past examples of parental engagement that successfully bridged the gap between parents, students, teachers and schools, including some first-hand examples of their own children’s school communities. 

 Above all, the day-long forum reminded parents that their voice and action are ensuring that children have access to a world-class education that prepares them for success in the knowledge economy.  They left resolved to meet the need and opportunity to work in tandem with schools, recognizing that alone, neither of the partners could be entirely effective.

Linda Pauley

Linda is a Public Affairs Specialist in ED’s Seattle Regional Office.

Counting Down to School Success

Countdown to Success ImageIn the October edition of Parenting magazine, the Department of Education teamed up with National PTA and Parenting to offer a month-by-month guide for parents and guardians that includes advice, tools, and online resources to help make this school year a great one.

To get the school year kicked off right, here are some handy tips from the guide:

  1. Reach out to your child’s teachers: Attend meet-the-teacher night, orientation or other welcome events, but don’t stop there. Make a point of introducing yourself and learning about class activities and expectations for the year.
  2. Get in the groove: Establish healthy at-home routines for school days, such as consistent waking times and getting-ready patterns. Decide on a regular homework time, and create a comfortable, quiet workspace.
  3. Time things right: Stay on top of everyone’s school, activity, and work schedules with a free online calendar or a smartphone app.
  4. Pack smart: Make sure your child’s backpack never weighs more than 10 to 20 percent of his or her body weight; heavy packs can strain developing muscles and joints.
  5. Commit to volunteering: With help from parents like you, your school can offer many more programs and services for your kids. Ask about volunteer opportunities in the school community and your children’s classrooms, and check out your school’s parent organization.

To read tips for the entire school year and to download the entire guide, visit the Countdown to School Success page.

Family Engagement: Four Great Ways to Get Involved

To ensure our nation’s students reach their full potential, parents must be fully engaged participants in their children’s education. Last week, ED held a family engagement forum that featured Michelle Kibbles a parent involvement coordinator who led effective family engagement efforts in the diverse Beaumont, Texas Independent School District. The forum also included Hillsborough County, Florida PTA President Melissa Erikson, as well as North Carolina PTA Parent Involvement Initiative administrators Debra Horton, Kim Shaffer, and Ashley Perkinson. These PTA leaders have fostered unprecedented growth in family involvement at both the local and state levels. Below are just a few of their successful strategies for parents and guardians.

  1. Build meaningful and collaborative relationships with teachers and principals.
  2. Many school districts hold special events to foster these relationships. If your child is having a problem in school, having a solid rapport with your child’s teacher may make it easier to work together on a solution.

  3. Be a part of your child’s support system by extending his or her classroom experience to your home.
  4. Ask teachers about your child’s course of study, the teacher’s expectations, and the school’s academic standards. By doing so, you will be prepared to help your child with his or her homework and ensure that your assistance supplements what your child learned at school.

  5. Talk to or join your local PTA.
  6. These organizations serve as a conduit between parents and teachers and have district-specific initiatives to improve communication. For example, the North Carolina PTA organized a home visit program in which PTA members organized and mediated meetings in parents’ homes that included parents, teachers, and students. Becoming active in your local PTA may help ensure your interests are represented at the district or state level.

  7. Become a leader in your community.
  8. Many school districts or PTAs offer leadership programs designed to prepare parents to be effective advocates for the community’s children. These programs also provide valuable resources for parents who foster communication between teachers, other parents, and public officials.

The next briefing in the family engagement series will be on September 29 at ED headquarters.  The panel will be composed of a grandparent, a parent of a child with special health care needs, and a parent of an armed service member.

Ben Firke and Sam Barnett are interns in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education

Supporting Teachers Through Family Engagement

Ed. Note: Mandy Grisham is an urban music educator from Memphis Tennessee, and a mother of two boys, ages five and two. She was a recent delegate to Parenting Magazine’s second annual meeting of the Mom Congress. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall on education reform and offers her own suggestions for how parents can support their child’s education.

Last week I had the opportunity to join, via satellite, some of the country’s leading education reform advocates in an education reform National Town Hall Meeting, held in Washington, D.C. The town hall participants included Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, House Committee on Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada.

After hearing about many different reform efforts, it’s obvious that government at all levels can have a significant impact over what happens in a child’s life during school hours. But what goes on in the child’s life after school is often out of the hands of our elected officials.

Most of us can agree that the people who influence a child during these post-school hours are an important factor that cannot be left out of the reform movement equation.  So what can we do as parents to support teachers, and improve the quality of education our children receive?

1. Engage with your child, first and foremost. Family engagement begins at home. Whatever your family looks like, take time to play and talk with your child. Ask questions like “what was your favorite part of the day?” Or, “Tell me something interesting that happened today?” If this is the most you can do, then stop right here and do it well!

2. Engage with your child’s friends and their families. “It takes a village to raise a child.” So find out what other parents are learning from their children.

3. Engage with your child’s teachers. Most teachers are eager to partner with you to help make the most of those hours your child is at school. The more they hear from you, the more they know you really care.

4. Engage with your child’s school. Look for ways to serve the PTA or Leadership Council. Ask what skills you have that may serve them.

5. Engage with the system. Get to know your school board members and learn about the budget. Districts will be spending the most money on the matters most important to them. If you don’t agree with the choices, get involved.

6. Engage the government. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get a politician’s attention and make a difference. Make yourself available to be a “parent on the field.” When they need feedback from their constituents, be available to offer your opinion.

– Mandy Grisham

If you missed the reform town hall, you can still watch it by clicking here.

Arne Duncan Urges Parents to Be Education ‘Truth-Tellers’

At the second annual meeting of Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress earlier today, Secretary Duncan urged parents to demand better results from the country’s educational system.  Citing falling Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings and a 25 percent dropout rate, Duncan told the audience of 73 delegates from every state in the nation that “incremental change won’t work. Going to a 23 percent dropout rate won’t work.”  Even in states like Massachusetts that are improving student achievement, Duncan stressed that students need to learn more.  “Massachusetts, if it were a country, would only be ranked 17th in the world,” he said.

To make the kind of change necessary, Duncan called on parents to demand more from schools.  “Your voice, your passion, your fierce advocacy is what the country has been missing,” he said. 

During a 30-minute discussion with the delegates, Duncan expanded on his remarks, urging parents to engage at every level, including where school, district, state and federal decisions are being made.  He called upon parents to be part of the solution, and to offer suggestions on how we can work together to close achievement gaps and improve student learning.

More than anything, Duncan urged parents to advocate for and demand excellence from schools.  He also asked parents to speak up when they see the curriculum narrowing or when teachers are not receiving the professional development they need.  “You guys have got to be truth-tellers,” he urged.  “You have to ask the really hard questions.”

Read our media advisory for more information on the second annual Mom Congress on Education and Learning conference, and visit Parenting’s Mom Congress page to learn about the 51 Mom Congress delegates representing each state and Washington, D.C.

Click here to see photos from the event.

Laurie Calvert

Laurie Calvert is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, North Carolina.