"Education is everybody's business," Maria DeWald told participants to NYSUT's "Every Child Counts" symposium. "We want to bring more people into the school community."
DeWald, president of the New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers, hit a responsive chord with the two dozen educators and community members at the symposium's "Parent and Family Engagement" workshop.
"It's not enough to sign up parents on open-school night," she said. "They have to be called and invited. Parents know they should be involved; we have to help them feel capable and invited"
DeWald and her co-presenter, Penny Leask, immediate past state PTA president, stressed the benefits of parental involvement. Students have higher grades, better test scores, improved attendance and completed homework.
"As community leaders, we need to walk in parents' shoes, Leask said. "We have to continually educate ourselves on how we keep parents involved. If all the parents are at the laundromat Saturday or at church on Sunday, we need to have the meetings where they are."
One question that provoked helpful discussion was the topic of grandparents raising school children. Besides the obvious generational differences, many grandparents are unprepared for the work involved in active learning.
Carlos Garcia, an Albany-area community and union activist, offered suggestions that can work in many communities. "Go to your church and ask your pastor for assistance. College students and future teachers may be available. Perhaps an active group of local professionals can help in the process," Garcia said.
Participants also spoke about the importance of each school building providing a welcoming atmosphere for parents. While acknowledging the need for tighter security than in previous eras, the need for welcoming faces, voices and familiar languages was stressed.
DeWald offered other suggestions that could increase a greater parental presence, such as offering GED or parenting classes at night. All families need to embraced, no matter their nationality, heritage language or sexual orientation, she said.
For more PTA recommendations for parental involvement, go to http://www.pta.org/.