When parents are involved in their children's education, children succeed at higher rates. Analysis from the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools concluded that when schools and parents work together, students earn higher grades, perform better on tests, enroll in more advanced courses and more often graduate and continue onto post-secondary education.
These findings come as no surprise to Jim Dillon, educator and author of "No Place for Bullying." "Kids need to see school as a place where their efforts lead to success -- their investment in school increases when they know their parents and school staff are on the same team, ready and willing to help them should they need it."
Even the busiest families can get involved. Ask Sue Robinson of the National PTA. "As a working parent, I do have to free up some time to stay up to speed with what is happening in my child's life and school activities," Robinson says.
Determine the amount of time you can realistically devote to your child's school and find an activity that fits your schedule. Here are a few examples for inspiration:
If You Have Three Hours a Day:
- Become a class parent: At the elementary level, teachers always welcome an extra set of hands for classroom projects and parties. While you may wish to work with your child's teacher, Dillon suggests you offer to help in other areas of the school as well, from the main office to the art room. It will give you more insight into the school's programs, and it will give your child the space he or she needs to develop a sense of independence.
It's easier than you think for hard-working parents to pitch in. There are free school and volunteer scheduling apps and tools (like VolunteerSpot) that make it simple to ask for help and get parents to sign up for things like reading to the class, bringing snacks or helping with a party.
- Organize an after-school homework club: With so many parents working 9-to-5 jobs, many children are left with little structure during those hours following the end of the school day. You can hold a homework club at the school, a public library or community center.
- Assist with extra-curricular activities: Extra-curricular activities enhance children's educational experience and, for many, provide a positive way to develop a sense of belonging. Drama clubs, civic organizations and hobby clubs require a time investment many teachers lack. A parent volunteer can play a vital role in ensuring these activities are available -- whether it's running the program, being an extra helper or acting as a chaperone.
- Participate in a reading partners program: Read-alouds help budding readers develop fluency and decoding skills. Many teachers at the elementary level have programs that bring community members into the classroom to serve as reading partners for students.
If You Have Three Hours a Week:
- Get involved on the policy-making level: Dillon sites his school's Shared Decision Making Team as one of the most effective vehicles for involving the community in policy-making and building trust between parents and schools. These teams of teachers, administrators and parents meet on a regular basis to discuss problems within the school and develop solutions. "When you get people together, great ideas emerge," says Dillon. Many boards of education seek parents to sit on similar advisory committees. A seat on one of these committees is a rewarding way to get involved with your child's school.
- Help produce school newsletters and other community outreach materials: If you have writing or publishing skills, your school may need you. Because you can do this work from home, this may be the perfect way for parents who aren't available during school hours to contribute.
- Become a class adviser: Graduating classes need one or more advisers, and high schools often seek parent volunteers to fill these positions. As a class adviser, you assist class officers in fundraising projects, bookkeeping and planning special events such as a junior prom or senior class trip.
- Start a community book club: Is your child's English class reading "Great Expectations"? Have the community join in by gathering copies of the novel and start an online discussion between students and parents, as everyone in the club works through the chapter assignments.
If You Have Three Hours a Month:
- Get involved with your school's PTA: The Parent-Teacher organization in your school district is perhaps the best resource for finding out what you can do to help your school. According to Robinson, "joining your local PTA is the best thing for busy parents." In addition to keeping you informed about school events, it provides a support system. "Don't be afraid to reach out to the PTA for help," she advises. Many PTAs offer child care at their meetings, making it even easier for parents to attend.
- Attend board of education meetings: Most board of education meetings are held in the evenings and offer great insight into what is going on in your school district. The board's agenda will provide a specific time for public comment so your ideas and opinions can be heard.
- Organize your neighborhood: If you live in a neighborhood with many school-aged children, get your neighbors together for a barbecue or block party, and discuss issues affecting your kids and schools. You may find your neighbors have concerns similar to your own. Brainstorm ideas and present them to your school administrators. This is also an opportunity to organize car pools, walking school buses or neighborhood homework clubs.
- Chaperone field trips or social events: Most field trips require a specific ratio of adults-to-children. Volunteer to join a class on a trip to a museum or apple orchard. At the high school level, you may find you're needed to oversee a school dance.
If You Have Three Hours a Year:
- Attend school open house: Open house is your introduction to your child's environment for the entire school year. Use this opportunity to learn about the curriculum and expectations for your child.
- Share your expertise: Do you have an interesting job? A fun hobby? Dillon suggests you let your child's teacher know about your areas of expertise. You may be able to supplement a unit of study with a classroom presentation.
- Participate in an annual event: Robinson believes the National PTA's Take Your Family to School Week is an ideal time to make connections with your child's school. Local PTA units across the country schedule family events during this week in February. Some schools open classrooms to parents during the school day; others hold evening events.
- Participate in a fundraising event: Bake sales, car washes and silent auctions are regular events at most schools. The funds raised support a variety of programs in the school. Volunteering a Saturday afternoon to help with one of these fundraisers will draw you closer to the school and demonstrate to your child the value you place in their education.
A positive and supportive school culture will bolster academic achievement and minimize behavioral problems. Parental involvement is crucial to building this culture. Kids need to know they're not making their life journey alone.
As Dillon puts it, "Like anyone, kids benefit greatly from knowing they have 'backup,' even if they seldom have to rely on it. It's nice to know, and gives them a great sense of security to know, that their parents and the school are a 'team' working together to support them."
Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer.