Vol.2, No.4

How to make a difference at your child's school

Discover how you can make a bigger impact on your child's education than you ever dreamed.

Parent at child's school
Photo Credit: Ronda Oliver
There can be two schools in the same city receiving exactly the same funding, and yet one of them will be far superior to the other. This is not merely a hypothetical situation, but is a reality in cities and towns across the United States. One might be tempted to blame the administration at one of the schools, but truth be told, there is more to it than that. Parents have the power. Here are some ways that you can help your child's school to be one of the best in your town or city.

Join the PTA (Parent and Teacher Association). Once there, participate in volunteer activities that help raise additional funds for the school. There are many ways that you can fundraise for your school. Approach neighborhood businesses and ask for items that can be raffled off or given as door prizes to PTA events. Help organize fun runs, carnivals, book sales and other fundraisers. The more discretionary funds that a school has, the more field trips and materials that school will have. This is one reason why School A's children on the north side of town do not experience any field trips, and School B's children on the south side of town have a field trip once every six-week period. Which school do you want your child to go to? You have more control over this than you imagine.

If you see something that is wrong with the way that the school is being run, say something about it. For example, a poor administrator can cause a high teacher turnover rate, which is terrible for the stability of the school, not to mention the children, who end up with a revolving door of new or first year teachers. Studies show that having even two first year teachers early on in your child's schooling can set your child back in reading and math to the point where it will be very difficult for him to stay caught up with his peers for the remainder of his time in school. When you consider that an entire community could produce classes of children who are behind in basic skills because of high teacher turnover caused by a poor administrator, it is time to take action. Gather your data, and talk to the assistant superintendent for your child's grade level. Respectfully insist that the problem be addressed. If the problem is not addressed, then garner community support for your cause and take the issue to the school board, and if necessary, the State Board of Education. The same holds true if the school has an administrator who treats children disrespectfully or does anything else to damage the children's school experience.

Be present at your child's school. Volunteer to be the class mom, or to help the teacher with basic tasks, such as copying, putting together materials for art activities and putting notes in the children's folders. The more time a teacher has that is free from basic tasks, the more time she will have to focus on enhancing the curriculum for her students. Also, by being present, you will have the opportunity to get a sense of the climate at your child's school. You will know how the adults who are around your child behave, whether they model respect, or gossip and are rude. As a person in the community who does not work for the school district, you can bring unfriendly employees to the notice of the administration without fear of being penalized, which is something that school employees often do not feel free to do if one of their peers is behaving inappropriately.

If your child's school is in big trouble, create a community advocacy organization specifically for the purpose of solving the problem. Sometimes parents who are in the community are part of the problem, by not participating in their child's education. If you mobilize other concerned parents, you can eventually draw in more parents from the community as well. Give your organization a name, and word of mouth will work. You should also send out press releases so that your organization will get media attention. You can also utilize email groups such as Yahoo Groups in order to get the word out, and to keep people posted on the groups progress on its goals. With citywide attention on the school, district officials will feel the pressure to make the school a better environment, whether this means adding safety measures, reducing class sizes, hiring more experienced teachers or changing the administration.

Ask the district to consider parental input on hiring decisions. At one school, after parents expressed grave concerns regarding the current administration, the primary administrator was asked to leave and a community meeting was held. At the meeting, parents and other community members were invited to present a profile of the type of administrator that they wanted to run the elementary school in their community. This is a great example of how a squeaky wheel, or in this case, many squeaky wheels, got the grease. This community can look forward to having a principal at their children's school who they were instrumental in choosing.

Do not be afraid to ask and work for the changes that you want to see in your child's school. Ask other parents to become involved. The old saying is that it takes a village to raise a child, and that means that as parents, we should not leave the well being of our children entirely within the hands of the school district. Parents have a very powerful voice, and we should not be afraid to use it.