school age
 
Parent Advocacy
The Importance of In-School Involvement

Parents are faced with tremendous responsibilities in the raising of children. As children enter the world of education outside the home, parents enter into a partnership with the teachers of their children. The key to success in this partnership is communication. Good communication with your child's school and the professionals who work with your child will ultimately translate into a better educational experience for your child. In your role as your child's primary advocate, you have a key role in this communication and in the decision making process as they both relate to your child.

Parental attitudes toward school send a strong message to children. Parents should let their children know how valued they feel the school experience is. Present school as an interesting and important part of your family's value system. This will translate into better attitudes, better attendance, and potentially greater success for your children.

By establishing good rapport with your child's teacher and school community, you will have an appreciation for the workings of the school and an understanding of the many ways in which you as a parent can become involved. This, in turn, will impart a feeling of confidence which will directly benefit your child. A personal relationship with the teacher is one in which both parties will learn from each other. Quick notes, e-mails, faxes, or phone calls about issues, as they come up, are often good preventive medicine.

Teachers are often a good source of information on child development issues. Your child's teacher spends a tremendous amount of time with your child and others his age. Always feel free to make inquiries. If something is happening in your child's life (death of a relative or pet, moving of a relative, divorce, illness, change in behavior, etc.), be sure to communicate this to your child's teacher. More often than not, your child's teacher has experienced these issues with other students. Knowledge of your child's circumstances will assist the teacher in providing for your child in a special situation.

Most parents acknowledge the ultimate importance of being involved in their child's education; however it is paramount that that involvement not only be "at home" involvement, but also "in-school" involvement, whenever possible. Often times, parents overlook the "in-school" aspect of "involvement" as a form of advocacy for their child. The reasons for this are varied. Conflicts with scheduling at work and self-doubts about how to be involved are just two barriers to involvement.

As your child's number one advocate, make sure you attend open-house, back-to-school nights, special performances, teacher conferences, and other events. Children delight in having their parents attend school events. If parents cannot attend due to scheduling conflicts, try to arrange for a grandparent or other relative or friend to attend in your place.

It is important to your child to have someone there. In addition to special events, find out your school's visitors' policy. Observe your child's work on display boards, read the PTO bulletin board, join the PTO, and volunteer in your child's classroom. Parents have so many talents which can be shared to enhance the classroom experience for all students. Children are proud to have their parent serve in the role of teacher. It is important to remember that your role as "advocate" does not magically end when your child leaves the primary grades. Parent involvement in education declines proportionally as a child's grade level increases. While it is important to monitor homework, it is equally important to continue to have good communication with your child, his teacher and the school community as your child progresses. Research has shown that parent involvement, through all levels of education, improves achievement and performance of all students. Don't forget to continue to read nightly with your child.

As you prepare your child either for starting school or for returning to school, think about your personal role in the process. You are an integral part of your child's education. You are your child's best advocate and a key ingredient to your child's ultimate success in the journey through school. Be there!

Maureen Ruby is a Kindergarten Teacher, Technology Education Teacher: K-3, and building technology coordinator at Jerome Harrison School in North Branford & the Vice President of The Kindergarten Association of CT.

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