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School effort aims to engage parents

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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

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Martha W November 29, 2010

    At last!Common sense. Parents and their attitude toward education are vital to the success of their children. I hope, though, that “empowering” parents doesn’t mean giving them the power to override grades, excuse excessive absences, get good teachers fired etc.

  • comment avatar Scott C November 29, 2010

    From your perspective what should empowering parents mean?

  • comment avatar John V November 29, 2010

    Martha is on to something. I just watched an arrogant family ruin a second-year elementary teacher. The teacher was dismissed for accusations that were never proven. Of course, the family probably having the help of the friendship with the superintendent made getting rid the teacher much easier. If this program wants to get more parents involved, which they should, those parents need to be 101 percent objective. More parents need to realize their kids can make mistakes, can have attitude problems, not perform well at times and not treat public education as a daycare center thinking the teacher has to raise the child, but then come down on the teacher when the teacher has concerns.

    I already have some questions with this program. Why not start during the grade school years to help make the later years of school better? Not every high school grad is equipped for or interested in college. I’ve known too many students who went to college thinking it’s at least a four-year ticket to party and education is lower on the priorities. Some kids don’t know what they want to do and change majors more than their socks, potentially creating longer time in school and more cost.

  • comment avatar Scott C November 29, 2010

    How should the parents be involved?

  • comment avatar Dan D November 29, 2010

    Gee, suddenly the media picks up on the idea that parental influence is as important or more important than the educators involved. This is what educators have been saying for years- but it was lost in the PERA, pay-for-performance, NCLB, anti-NCLB, wind tunnel.
    If parents were as closely involved with their child’s education as they were thirty years ago, coupled with the improvements in teacher education and technology use, this country would be a world leader in education.
    Instead, we have a generation of parents that carried out the threat of “When I’m an adult, I won’t do that with my kids.” “That” meaning maintaining a consistent standard of involvement, respect for authority, and actually placing kids ahead of self.

  • comment avatar Jeri Curler November 29, 2010

    WTH are you talking about?

    Thirty years ago I was a teenager and let me say, my parents (and the parents of most of my friends) were uninvolved unless there was a problem. They didn’t help me with homework and they didn’t help me with projects.

    Having kids in Elementary school, I can say the expectations of parent involvement is much higher now, than it ever was.

  • comment avatar John V November 29, 2010

    Parents should make time to communicate with their child’s teachers. If a parent can’t actually go to the school after school, see if the teacher can e-mail or call the parent. Ask for a brief report, maybe twice a month, or whatever both parties think is appropriate. Parents should always be allowed to watch a classroom. The child should be told in advance so he can be prepared. A parent doesn’t have to spend all day in the class, just 20 minutes or so to see what it is like. Go more than once during the school year. Parents should network with other parents of kids in the same class so they can exchange notes, comments and ways to help not only each others’ kids, but maybe even the teacher. Of course, that is all done with a healthy attitude. Don’t just be looking for what is wrong with the class/teacher. Find the positives, too. Go to a school board meeting. You may learn what is impacting the school/class/teacher.

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