TAMPA — There’s an answer for parents looking to give their children an advantage when the fall semester opens Tuesday in Hillsborough schools.
Look in the mirror.
Reams of research indicates parental involvement in a child’s education is the biggest factor in academic success.
Not impressed by research? Take it from the top, Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools MaryEllen Elia: “If students see how important education is to their parents, and if the parents are constantly underscoring that, it makes a huge difference in the way students focus,” Elia said. “If parents believe they can be successful, if they work together, then students believe they can be successful.”
Or take it from the trenches — in this case, Jodi Pecoraro, a fourth-grade teacher at Chiles Elementary: “Holding children accountable at home and teaching them to value education is extremely important to a child’s success; I believe more important than socioeconomic factors,” Pecoraro said.
“Time after time, year after year, even children who come from struggling financial situations. If they have family support at each grade level, those children do far better.”
That’s more than a teacher’s hunch.
Recent reports from the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education, the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, and the Center for Law and Education all echo a study by the national Parent Teacher Association that concluded, “The most accurate predictors of achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family creates a home environment that encourages learning ...”
v v To help accomplish that, the Hillsborough district is pushing a series of initiatives to get parents involved. The district has a full-time director of parent/family and community involvement, MaryLou Whaley, who points to a host of programs:
SERVE Volunteers in Education, a private nonprofit agency that is the volunteer arm of the school district. The group recruits, screens and trains volunteers who work in school sites throughout the county. Those interested in volunteering can call (813) 872-5254 or visit servevolunteers.org.
School-based parent/family workshops. Parents can contact their children’s school to find out information on sessions to deepen parents’ knowledge and skills to help students succeed.
Adult education. The district offers parenting classes to increase involvement and help parents obtain skills they need to help their student succeed. For more information, call (813) 740-7750 or ace.mysdhc.org.
Parent Teacher Associations or Parent Teacher Student Associations. The groups provide a way for parents, teachers, administrators, students and community members to discuss education concerns and promote student achievement. Individual schools can provide information on their association.
School Advisory Councils. The councils help the principal and faculty in developing, implementing and monitoring school improvement plans. Individual schools will have information on their SACs.
Parent University. All parents are invited to attend informational sessions designed to support the academic life of children. The first is at 8 a.m. Aug. 24 at Plant City High School.
Parents can also mentor students through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, (813) 287-2210 and the Hillsborough Education Foundation (813) 574-0260.
v v This year, the Hillsborough district is also rolling out “Edsby,” a new interactive gradebook that allows parents to monitor their children’s progress, grades, and any communications from teachers via a home computer. Plant High School principal Robert Nelson said when operational, it will be a valuable tool for parents.
“Whether it’s Edsby, whether it’s enrichment materials, whether there’s Internet resources or online textbooks, you have to reinforce what you’re doing here at school at home,” Nelson said. “There is no doubt about that.”
Audrey Lewis, an education consultant and member of the Gadsden County School Board, insists there is a lot more to parental involvement than joining the PTSA. She is the author of a book and leader of a training course called “Different Levels of Parent Involvement,” in which she says those at Level 1, Responsibilities and Attendance, are at a critical starting position to develop higher levels of involvement.
Parents at that level make sure their child attends school regularly and on time, provide the necessary school supplies, provide the school with necessary information about the student, provide a home environment that encourages learning and encourages positive school feelings.
“Everybody has their own talents,” Lewis said. “We can’t praise parents enough for the little things they do.”
What else can parents do?
“Please, email us, call us, whatever you need to do to understand what’s going on,” said Marilyn Loblack, a math teacher at Boys Preparatory Academy at Franklin Middle. “We form a triangle between the teacher and the student and the parent.”
Lewis’ scale of involvement goes to Level 5, where parents take on leadership roles and advocate for teachers and students. That is theoretically the level you would find Kathy Hanson, mother of three and head of the PTSA at Plant High School, which has one of the most active parent populations in the district.
On a recent evening, she was rushing home from work, filling out forms, making plans to attend the school’s new student orientation and open house, and handling a t-shirt order for the organization.
“Even if you work, you have to fit it in,” Hanson said. “Clearly, when the parent is more involved with their child, the better success a child has.”
And as for all the forms, “It makes for a much smoother first week of school if a parent is prepared as well.”