School effort aims to engage parents
posted by: Mile High Mamas
Much of the talk around educational reform has focused on the role teachers play in students lives, all but ignoring another big player: parents.
One Denver high school is changing that narrative, creating a multi-school system that empowers parents with the goal of getting more students into college.
Antonio Esquibel, principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, is using money from a three-year federal school-improvement grant to build a collaboration with its feeder schools — CMS Community School, Godsman Elementary and Kepner Middle School.
“The end goal is to really prepare kids for college when they graduate from Lincoln, beginning at preschool and kindergarten,” Esquibel said.
Parent participation rises
The collaboration is focused on aligning academics and empowering parents — providing them with training, taking them to visit colleges, encouraging them to volunteer and getting them to attend parent-teacher conferences.
Not long ago, it was typical for only 100 parents to attend parent-teacher conferences at the high school. This year, an estimated 1,500 parents showed up.
“You talk to any of our teachers, they can attest to the difference,” Esquibel said.
About 50 parents are volunteering in the high school, organizing books and helping out in classrooms.
Many are immigrants who had been successful in their home countries but have not been able to work here.
“I hear parents who now say, ‘Thank you. You helped me feel professional again,’ ” said Fernando Guidice, Lincoln’s parent coordinator, who was a principal at a school in Venezuela.
“When the parents are in the schools, the environment is different,” he said. “They may hear a student sassing a teacher in Spanish and will say . . . ‘Hey. Respect.’ ”
On a recent weekday, 60 parents from the neighborhood took a bus to the the University of Colorado for a day-long tour of the Boulder campus.
“It is my first time here. I love it,” said Marisela Orona, whose children go to Lincoln High and Kepner Middle School. “I want my child to go to college.”
The idea is to show the parents that college is attainable, Guidice said.
“We are working to create an expectation of success, not only in our students but in our parents,” he said. “We need to show them that it is possible to be in college.”
Manuel Escamilla, director of the BUENO Equity Assistance Center at CU-Boulder, said another goal is to increase the number of minority students on campus.
Of Boulder’s 30,196 on-campus students, 2,310 are black or Latino. That is roughly 7.6 percent, according to the university.
“We want to work with the parents to make them realize that this is their school, that this is the flagship school of Colorado, and we need to have more brown faces,” Escamilla said. “We want for them to plan a professional life for their children.”
Research backs efforts
Decades of research show that the more parents are involved in education, the higher the student achievement. That involvement can be at home working with students on their assignments or in the schools being a volunteer.
One respected study from the 1960s said that about one-half to two-thirds of the variance in student achievement can be accounted for by home variables rather than school variables.
“Of course, it is incredibly important,” said Tom Boasberg, Denver Public Schools superintendent, whose reform blueprint for the district, The Denver Plan, includes parental engagement as one of its four key strategies.
The district offers superintendent forums every two months for parents to ask Boasberg specific questions. And twice a year, the district holds “parent leadership institutes,” offering information, tools and strategies to improve and sustain parent engagement. The district also has started a radio show in Spanish to reach out to parents.
“We recognize that there is greater strength outside of the district than inside the district,” Boasberg said.
Jeremy P. Meyer