A weekend interview with ...
... Sheila Weiss, director of public relations for Voss & Associates, an education communications firm. Weiss, formerly spokeswoman for the Sarasota school district, is making the rounds encouraging Florida's school boards to adopt the Be There campaign, which focuses on parental involvement. Pinellas schools already have signed up, and Pasco is assessing its options. Weiss spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the campaign.
Tell me what the Be There program is.
OK. It's not a program. It's not curriculum. It's a campaign. And it's a multimedia, research-based campaign that inspires parents to become involved in their children's education and their children's lives.
Don't we already have parents involved?
We certainly have many parents involved. But as the school districts know, less and less parents have the time to become involved at the school, to come in and volunteer at the school, or even to come to parent information night. And this is a way to just remind parents when they're doing every day routines of life to stop for a moment and connect with their child, give their child a hug, ask a question, impart their knowledge, be their favorite teacher. And in so doing that will make the ordinary routines extraordinary.
What kinds of things are you suggesting that schools would do in this effort?
We're asking the schools to carry the banner, the Be There banner. In essence, to use the components that we've developed to get the word out to parents. There are written components, there are public service announcements, there are posters and newsletter articles, and lots of components that schools can use.
You said there are several districts already joining up to do this. Which ones are involved?
Every day I'm getting calls from another school district. But at this point, we've got in the state of Florida alone Pinellas, Lee County, Charlotte, Volusia, Collier. Those have launched. Then we've got this whole group who are working on it to launch in January - Alachua, Okaloosa, Sumter and a number of others. But the nice thing about this is we're trying to make this a national campaign. So we've got school districts in Massachusetts, Virginia, Louisiana, Arizona, Nebraska, California.
And this all started in Sarasota?
Yes. It was developed here by Voss & Associates after we did a communication audit for Volusia County. And in that audit, everyone was saying the same thing: 'It's really important to communicate with parents, but where are they? We can't get them into the schools.' So after doing research, David Voss helped to develop this campaign. And it is ... a feel-good campaign, like Coca-Cola or Pepsi ... where it doesn't reprimand the parents, it doesn't inform the parents. It just inspires them with a gentle reminder. We would like it to be like the Don't Drink and Drive campaign ... which was highly successful around the country and was a multimedia campaign. That's what we're trying to do, make connecting with children the new norm in this country.
Do you have any results yet?
We have only a testimonial here and a testimonial there from individual principals. One middle school principal in Volusia wrote us that she needed to improve family involvement in her school and improve student achievement. So last year they really had an all-out effort, and Be There was a major component. They also got the Connect-Ed call out system. They just kept reminding parents to be there, to be there, to be there. And their test scores went up. So they really feel their whole concerted effort, with Be There as one component to whatever else they were doing, helped improve their scores. That's one school in one district. This is a long-term campaign. We see this being two to four year campaign before it makes a difference. Because you have to constantly hear that message to be reminded to be there.