BY JULIE DUDGEON, MIDDLE SCHOOL COORDINATOR, CHATUAQUA STRIDERS
As children start kindergarten, they begin their first journey away from home and the nurturing, daily contact with family members, parents, or guardians. Because of their tender ages, many parents become intimately involved in their children’s schools and communicate regularly with teachers, counselors, and administrators. Sadly, however, as children age and move into middle and high school years, interest in school events and contact with teachers often wanes just when it becomes more important than ever.
According to several studies, students’ academic success and personal well-being are directly associated with positive parental participation in their schools and in their lives. Former U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard Riley stated, “Thirty years of research shows that when family and community members are directly involved in education, children achieve better grades and higher test scores, have much higher reading comprehension, graduate at higher rates, are more likely to enroll in higher education, and are better behaved.” Favorable self-esteem, decreased alcohol and/or drug use, and decreased juvenile delinquency are also the result of direct parental contact with the schools their children attend.
All that being said, educational institutions sometimes seem like daunting places to parents for a variety of reasons. Then, too, how many times have you heard children say they do not want their parents around at school or during events in which they are participating? The truth is most adolescents DO want structure and routine in their lives and are secretly reassured and maybe even proud of the fact their parents care enough to take an interest in their education and extra-curricular activities. Parents can encourage autonomy and independence while being supportive and directive. They can set a great example by expressing how much they value education - their children’s and their own - and by their involvement at school functions and in discussions with their children’s teachers.
In an article written by Sue Swaim, Executive Director of the National Middle School Association, there are five actions steps parents and families can adopt to support students:
Establish family routines – This means, for example, a time and a place for studying, assigning household chores for everyone, and practicing good health habits, including getting a good night’s sleep and eating a good breakfast in the morning before school or work.
Model educational expectations – If, as a parent, your children see you reading often, questioning what you have read or heard, taking on new projects and job responsibilities, or furthering your own education, they will follow suit. Make time for frank family discussions centered on what has happened in your children’s lives, talk about important issues, and value their opinions. Also, during these discussions, explain to them how your own education has helped you in “real” life and how their coursework and what they are learning can apply to daily situations.
Oversee extra-curricular activities – Apply a consistent and appropriate set of rules for behavior outside of home and school and discuss their importance with your children. Guide the use of your children’s leisure time and help them achieve a healthy balance between school, friends, sports, etc. Adolescents may act as though they do not appreciate the boundaries you have set but in truth, they appreciate not having to make some decisions about where to go and with whom. It is okay to be the “bad guy” as it gives them a way out of sometimes difficult situations.
Encourage academic development and overall progress – Parents that are interested in what their children are doing in school, take time to look at their homework and test scores, talk about any problems they are having with particular subjects, attend school functions, and talk to their teachers. Children will then realize education is a priority. When children receive little or no feedback from their parents or are not challenged beyond getting a passing grade, it gives them little incentive to work to their potential.
Encourage reading and writing at home – Too often, especially because this generation is so “plugged in,” children, unless prompted at an early age, tend not to see the value in reading a book and even less in learning how to write well. Both are vital for success in the world beyond the classroom.
It matters greatly how much parents are involved in their children’s education and how they perceive the importance of that education. Sign up to volunteer in the classroom or for the band or sports booster club; support your PTA; attend open houses and conferences with your children’s teachers; go to school sports activities, plays, and music concerts. All the effort will be worthwhile both in terms of your children’s academic achievement and in terms of their personal growth. What a wonderful way to sow the seeds for their future success!
Julie Dudgeon, Middle School Coordinator for Chautauqua Striders, supervises the after school tutoring programs at Jefferson, Washington, and Persell Middle Schools, and also CARE (Community AcademicsReaching Everyone) tutoring program at the Jamestown YMCA, Second Floor. A resident of this area most of her life, she is married and has two grown sons.