Getting the parents and the school and the kids all talking

School's out for the summer, but parents can still foster a learning environment at home - and think about how they'll involve themselves in their child's academic life come fall.

Schools can also use the break to develop a plan for integrating families into their curriculum and decisionmaking (see story, page 17).

According to Joyce Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, and director of the National Network of Partnership Schools, there are six different kinds of involvement: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decisionmaking, and collaborating with the community.

All six types have different results, says Ms. Epstein, and also specific challenges if the school wants to make sure all parents are involved, not just those who regularly attend conferences and chaperone field trips.

She adds that it is important to rethink overused terminology. While some educators might see a workshop, for example, as just a meeting held at a certain time, her definition emphasizes that the content can be distributed by video, memo, or tape to reach parents whose schedules don't allow them to attend.

Any effective parent involvement requires good communication and coordination between families and teachers. While the classic "How was school today?" may not always produce illuminating answers, says Epstein, family discussions centered around current assignments may be very productive.

Her TIPS (Teachers Involve Parents in Schoolwork) interactive homework design calls for special assignments that require students to talk with family members about what they are learning. While parents are not asked to "teach" skills, the homework can foster discussion and home learning.

Other successfully tested practices to bring families into the learning loop, according to the Network of Partnership Schools, include:

* An action team to develop a program for raising family and community involvement.

*Family participation in helping students set academic goals each year.

* An annual survey that allows families to share information and concerns with schools.

Ultimately, says Epstein, it's "good communications and a good plan" that ensure successful school-family-community partnerships. More information is available at the network's Web site at www.partnershipschools.org.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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