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How involved are you with your child's school?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  April 23, 2010 08:24 AM

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Last week, assistant high school principal and blogger Mocha Momma asked parents of high school kids: "what is your definition of involvement? What does that include? How do you help your child be a successful student."

I realized that much of what I do to help my kids be successful happens at home. Blended family issues are at play at our house, too -- I'm nowhere near as involved with my stepkids schools as I'd like to be, and "parental involvement" is wildly different at the preschool level vs. at the middle- and high-school levels.

"We have a narrow view of what fits in as an involved parent, and if they donít fit there then we label them as uncaring," Mocha Momma explained in response to a comment on her post. "Thatís why I want to define what 'involvement' is from the parentís point of view and meet them in the middle."

I wish more school administers did things like this.

So, I haven't left a comment there yet -- still thinking of what to say. But her question stuck with me, and so here I am, throwing it out to you: Parents of older kids, how involved are you with your child's school?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com. April is Autism Awareness Month; you can read her posts about autism here.

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8 comments so far...
  1. Moderately to little depending on what "involvement" means. Right now, our 2-year old is in "Play Skool" but there is a cirriculum. They learn the very basics of science, math, art, music, reading, and they even have an "Emergency Writing" corner in her room. There's plenty of free-play for their age, but all of the organized activities are designed to teach concepts - and they do. We see it at home.

    That being said, I missed the last quarterly Parental Advisory Board because I couldn't take lunch that day.But we make sure that she has the items requested for activities, that she participates in all of the different themed days (a lot of parents don't). We talk to her teachers at drop off and pick up, sometimes at great length - and when problems have arisen, we've worked with them to provide a solution that's consistent both at home and in school. We always read the menu board to see what she's eaten and the activity board to see what she's done during the day too. Again, I see many parents who don't - and don't even say hello to the staff!

    Depending on where I am when she starts elementary school, I would like to be more involved. We'll have to see what those teachers adn administrators ask of us though.

    Posted by Phe April 23, 10 07:18 AM
  1. As a former middle school teacher, I wish parents would understand what we mean when we mean involved.

    Involved means...

    1-Teaching your child to be responsible for their homework and to be prepared for school each day.

    This does NOT mean calling me at 7pm at night and asking me "what was the homework again?" because one time I called you and forgot to block my cell number and now you think you're empowered to put me at your beck and call. You also lose major points for sharing my cell with other parents, making me change my number after being harassed by parents over a weekend.

    This also doesn't mean that you can email me and tell me that YOU forgot to check X's backpack and the homework is at home on the table. You need to teach X to be responsible. THEY need to check their OWN work. THEY need to learn to make sure they're ready before they leave for school. With younger kids, you can guide them by telling them to check their backpack and standing back instead of opening it and checking it yourself. But by sixth grade, that just isn't going to fly. It's not YOUR job anymore.

    2-If you see your kid struggling over homework, drop an email or call to the teacher to ask how things are going. Especially in the older grades when kids revolve through multiple teachers a day, you need to have compassion for your kids teachers--we see between 60 and 120 kids a day. It is easy for a kid who is just starting to slip to fall through the cracks because of volume.

    Also--have compassion if we need to look at our grade books or need a day to get back to you. We don't have magical recall of all 120 kid's status in terms of homework or their last 4 grades on tests. Some days I couldn't tell you what I ate for breakfast, much less kid X's gpa.

    3-If you have time/money to spare, please check in to see if there's anything you can do to support a favorite teacher--in Boston we had our paper supply rationed. If we needed to copy more than 2 reams of paper in a month, it was on our nickel. I spent over 5,000 dollars on my classroom library so that my students would have books to read during downtime (while waiting for the class to finish a test) or in leiu of the library period they didn't have. My students contributed to my classroom library...and that was far more appreciated than any starbucks gift card (I don't drink coffee, but thanks for thinking of me) or tacky apple decoration (again, the thought counts, but....) that I ever got.

    4--Teach them how to self-advocate. After 3rd/4th grade, the best thing you can do is to help them become empowered to advocate for themselves--to approach a teacher to re-explain a concept they find confusing, to RESPECTFULLY challenge a grade if they really think it's merited (and to know the difference between an appropriate grade challenge and being an obnoxious grade-monger), to share their concerns with a teacher.

    One of my biggest frustrations in teaching middle school were the parents who still viewed their children as being "too little" to whatever. I genuinely had a parent who expressed concern that I sent her kid to the office by himself to the office on an errand because it was on the other side of the school....he was 12 and very responsible. Your children are very capable, but will only be as responsible as you empower them to be---if you treat your child like a helpless infant, they'll act like one---and after they know how to tie their own shoes, that's just irritating--and it's intolerable in middle school and beyond.

    5-Know what's going on in school. Being active in the school means different things in the middle and high school years. Know how many AP courses there are...and if the pass rate is low, talk to the pricipal to find out why. Why aren't your children getting music classes, and is there something you can do to raise money to help create one. What other support can you offer in a more universal sense?

    Posted by C April 23, 10 11:04 PM
  1. I think I'm involved at a moderate level. I don't necessarily go to PTO meetings, but I do volunteer for events and fundraising and so on. I generally can't help in the classroom, but when there's an opportunity that meshes with my availability, I usually will offer to help with it. I meet with the teachers around report card time, and am in contact with them when there's an issue that warrants discussion (initiated either by me or by them). The teachers encourage us to email them with questions and concerns, and I try not to abuse that. We've all heard stories about That Parent who emails a million times a day and corners the teacher before or after school. Also, if my child has a question about an assignment or a grade, I encourage them to ask themselves instead of asking for them. We practice at home, so I'm confident they ask in a respectful manner.

    Posted by akmom April 24, 10 05:51 PM
  1. my children are still young and there is fair amount of involovement from parents who are able to participate.

    but i do remember when i was in high school. i really dont think there are many opportunities for parents to help out. we never went on field trips or anything that required the extra help. unless your child played sports and you worked the ticket booth - there really didnt seem like parents were needed.

    Posted by kiki April 24, 10 07:40 PM
  1. My oldest is in middle school and there is a difference for sure between involvement at this level and the elementary level and I would imagine that this continues even more into high school, where what is appropriate and necessary changes even more. At all levels, I am active in the parent-teacher organization (called a PAC in my town). For the younger grades, that includes a mind-numbing number of fundraisers and activities and endless need and opportunity for hands-on parent help. I work FT and can't be a regular in the class room, but in the elementary schools, the other main way for parents to get involved is by having a scheduled weekly time to help out in the room (flashcards, reading circle etc.). That kind of help is not needed or wanted at the middle school level, where the kids are horrified at the prospect of seeing a parent at school for any reason.

    Anyway...at the middle school my involvement includes showing up to PAC meetings, helping out with what little fundraising is done, and providing whatever the teachers ask for in a prompt manner (e.g. boxes of tissues, contributions to a class party, supplies for a group project) but mostly it's helping my son stay on top of his schoolwork and homework and making sure that he has the supplies and resources he needs for projects, shows up fed and hydrated and ready to learn (as much as I can control that in an adolescent anyway), and pulls his weight when he joins a club or activity at school so that the faculty advisor doesn't end up executing most of the work. My middle-schooler has ADHD and some learning disabilities, so my "involvement" also includes being in close, regular contact with his teachers over day in, day out schoolwork/homework/projects and responding promptly to the rest of the IEP team (learning specialists, school psychologist) when necessary.

    When he started middle school I was surprised at how little the parents were "needed" compared to what was asked of us in elementary school but of course as the students get older, it's about them taking more responsibility for themselves and it's our job to give them the tools and resources to do that. I am also enjoying a bit of a reprieve as I have heard that once they hit high school, the parent booster groups that fundraise for sports, music, theater etc. can suck the life out of you...

    Posted by Jen April 25, 10 12:05 AM
  1. My children are in HS and MS and I'm still involved with the schools as much as possible. When the library was closed at the MS, the following year I organized volunteers to run it so the students could at least take out books. This was a nice way to be in the school which is rare for that grade level. However, some of the teachers were pretty hostile to the idea. I am also involved with both school's site councils and PTA when I can. I also run an afterschool program at the MS. I'm fortunate that I only work part time and am able to do these things. I enjoy getting to know the teachers and the students.When my kids talk about their friends or teachers, I know who they are talking about. My HS child sometimes complains that I am too involved, although she just asked her principal if she could be a student representative on our site council with me.
    My husband is also on the school committee so I guess people may think we are too involved but I feel it is important especially when your kids go to a public school.

    Posted by RTmom April 26, 10 06:57 AM
  1. I do my best to stay "involved" with what my child is doing while also trying not to hover. She's 10 and in the 4th grade, and we're trying to teach her to be responsible and independent. We're lucky, she doesn't struggle academically and has a good group of friends. We chat about what they're working on in class and she'll come to us if she needs some help or direction with something.
    As a mom that works full time, my "involvement" in the school has to be pretty limited. I help out when I can, but can't be there all the time. We participate in fundraisers, and I can generally be in the classroom a couple of times a year if I can schedule it in advance with work (I have an understaning boss). I think some parents are TOO involved in the day-to-day at the school. Kids need to learn independence and having mom in the school everyday isn't going to teach them that. Don't get me wrong, I GREATLY appreciate all of the hard work that others do that I cannot because of work, but I think kids need their own space, too.

    Posted by MAP April 27, 10 11:10 AM
  1. I think the older the child gets, the less the parent should be involved when it comes to school issues. I think we need to be present, listen and disperse advice whenever possible. I'm not saying to stick your head in the sand, on the contrary. Read what you can, poke around their stuff and try to know what they are into. These kids have the highest amount of stress and social issues they are dealing with. They need to know you are there for them but they are growing into adults. The child needs to take control of their education and this is a great arena to prepare them for college.

    Posted by Nicole April 27, 10 05:07 PM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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