In the next few weeks, my oldest is finishing up his elementary school experience and moving on to middle school. Having been in the same school for 7 years, we have had plenty of time to build relationships with his teachers. Ones where I feel comfortable that any one of us can address a concern before it becomes an issue. I also had 7 years to become progressively more involved in not just my son’s class – but the school in general. In September, when he starts middle school, I anticipate my involvement will be different.
Last week, we hosted our final monthly home & school association meeting at the middle school and invited a group of our elementary alumni currently attending the middle school to sit on a panel and share their middle school experiences. We also invited the middle school home & school association’s president. The topic came up about parent involvement; we had the H&S president say they still have many similar fundraisers and volunteer opportunities as the elementary schools that need parent participation. While the home and school association was crying out for parent help, several of the students chimed in about how they were OK with their parents volunteering at the book fair or during picture day, but they didn’t want their parents chaperoning events such as the dances.
I have no idea what my role is going to be, come September. I know I cannot jump in with both feet given that I will still be in the president’s role at the elementary school and several other larger commitments – but I know that not being actively involved is simply not an option. That meeting left me wondering; how do you go about getting parents to participate? I can only imagine that by 7th grade many of the parents comfortable with diving into the parent association roles their first year are possibly burned out, and those who aren’t, may need a year or two to warm up to the idea (and at that point they are on their way out and getting ready for high school).
Although being personable, welcoming and putting family engagement efforts at the top of the priority list are important for all schools; I think these are crucial in settings where your families are only there for a few years. You don’t have the time to let the parents “warm up” to the idea of getting involved.
I understand these roles are volunteers, and everyone has busy family lives, but these boards/associations need to build relationships with the elementary school families BEFORE their children start middle school. A rep from the MS should attend a handful of the elementary monthly meetings and the elementary school should have a spot at the MS meetings.
I know fundraising is necessary to fill the gap between what the schools can provide and what we wish for our children to have at school – but I don’t ever believe that should be the parent association’s primary role. I would rather see one large fundraising event for the year, and all other volunteer efforts focused on supporting education. Parents don’t want to sit through a meeting with a dozen parents they either don’t really know or care to spend their limited free moments with – but they are interested in sitting to learn about topics such as tips for paying for college, how to use the technology their children are using or effective ways to communicate with their children, and seeing their children demonstrate what they have learned and worked so hard on.
Let’s provide parents with the tools and resources to better support their children’s education. Family engagement is what has been proven to provide our children with a better education. Family engagement doesn’t have to cost a dime.
Are you a middle school parent? How are you involved? What tips do you have for others? I will share how I am involved (or not involved) going forward.
image credit: baldwinpta.org