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Collaboration, Communication, Accountability, and Equity: The Key to Parental Engagement

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Over the years I have been involved in many projects and programs that aimed to increase parental involvement in education. What I have learned is that the ones that have the greatest chance of truly impacting student achievement are the ones that are focused on parental engagement and are based on the principles of collaboration, communication, accountability, and equity.

The most commonly used word in education when it comes to parental involvement is partnership. Often the education world tries to reach out to parents to develop a "partnership" that falls short of its definition. To truly engage parents as partners in education, we have to be willing to identify and utilize the strengths and skills they have to offer, be willing to take the time to educate them about the information that really matters, and empower them to act on issues that are in the best interest of their child. We have to be willing to be transparent and accountable, even in difficult times, in order to work together to find the answers. That's what you would want from a powerful partner and a strong, beneficial partnership.

Through my work with the PTSA and the leadership team at the school, I have had the opportunity to develop programs that help to build parental engagement in education. The creation of our Parent Involvement Resource Center (PIRC) on our school campus aims to do just that. The PIRC is a resource center that is full of parenting materials offered free of charge to the families at our school. The PIRC houses our Parent Lending Library which is a large collection of books and audio materials in both English and Spanish that cover a wide range of parenting topics. The center also contains resources from local nonprofits and community organizations that are focused on assisting parents and families. The goal is to raise student success by providing parents the resources needed to assist them with tough parenting issues. Overall, the PIRC has increased opportunities for meaningful communication and has created a feeling of community support on our campus.

Supporting student achievement can be done through various means. In 2007, I led the creation and development of the Giving Closet, a program that gives free personal hygiene items to students in need. When it became apparent that many of our lower socioeconomic students were struggling to have access to basic necessities and it was affecting their ability to learn, we designed a program that addressed the issue. Solely funded through grants and community donations, the Giving Closet aims to raise student achievement by reducing absences related to illness, decreasing incidences of bullying, and raising student self-esteem. This collaborative program connects our community to our school, builds compassion between our students, and connects parents to other resources that are available to assist with student needs.

My newest endeavor is the implementation of Parent Data Nights through a joint effort between the school and the PTSA. These events provide parents with student testing information, academic benchmarks, and school accountability measures. This level of transparency and accountability opens the door for the greatest opportunity for cooperative understanding between parents and educators of the student's strengths, needs, and opportunities for growth. This equitable communication among all teachers and parents establishes an exceptional standard for the high expectations of both partners. By providing all parents the access to the same student and school performance data, we are empowering parents and supplying them with the information and knowledge they need to be effective in their child's education.

If we are looking to truly develop relationships with parents that have the potential to positively impact student achievement, we must work towards meaningful engagement instead of basic involvement, alliances that are based on sincere utilization of strengths and skills, and a dedicated focus on programs that are built on collaboration, communication, accountability, and equity.

Anne Stafford has been recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for her work in the PTA.