By Rosa Conrad
Parent involvement is traditionally defined as parents who volunteer at school, attend school functions, and communicate with teachers regarding their children’s academics. It also includes parents who are on the Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) Board Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Board, and attend similar meetings at school. Parents who are seen at school are often recognized for being the parents who are involved.
This has been the traditional way that parent involvement is practiced in our educational system. Yet there are different ways that parents become involved in their children’s academics, which have not been recognized by many schools and teachers. My thesis research addressed the experiences for parents of color in particular as they navigated the education system in an attempt to be involved. Some nontraditional practices that families support their children’s academics at home include:
- Encouraging them to do well in school
- Setting up an environment at home where their child can study and do homework
- Helping with homework
- Visiting the library to encourage reading
- Asking their children about their school day
- Sharing their own history and culture
- Teaching life skills (cooking, gardening, cleaning, babysitting and child care, budgeting, mechanics, banking, etc.)
- Teaching them a second language
- Teaching them skills from their employment
These practices and life skills transfer over to academics and significantly contribute to students’ achievement at school. Many parents do not have an opportunity to share with schools how they are putting parent involvement into practice at home. There is little or no opportunity to have conversations with parents to learn how other parents are supporting their children. Some factors are due to economic challenges, language differences, and time and financial constraints.
Parents traditionally volunteer in the classroom and at school functions. This gives parents time to meet and get to know their child’s teacher. The teacher has the opportunity to talk to them and discuss their children’s academic progress. It allows for them to become aware of how their child is doing in school and address any issues that might arise.
Unfortunately, many parents do not have the time or availability to attend school conferences, functions, and events. Both parents might have jobs during normal school hours, making it difficult to meet with teachers. Some may need to take time off work to attend school conferences, which means losing income that their families need. Others may face a language barrier that makes it challenging to communicate with teachers.
Schools should become informed about the different ways parental involvement is being practiced. They should incorporate these nontraditional practices into the curriculum, and actively support parents with their efforts. School curriculum can help facilitate parent involvement at home and be inclusive of parents who are unable to be involved in the traditional sense. A truly inclusive educational system must engage, inform, and communicate with all parents as well as all children.