Many Hillsborough families will be finalizing their checklists this weekend in preparation for the start of school Wednesday.
New clothes, check. School supplies, check. Bus schedule, check.
Parents would be wise to develop their own checklist, too, and to keep it close throughout the school year — specific steps they'll take as partners in their children's academic success.
Review the materials that come home in the backpack every day, check. Read and discuss books with one another each night, check. Make plans to attend the first PTA meeting and to volunteer on campus, check.
Study after study demonstrates how closely children's ultimate success tracks with the involvement of parents in this phase of their lives. At-risk behaviors such as alcohol use, violence and other anti-social behaviors decrease as parent involvement in schooling increases, the California education advocacy group EduSource says.
So important is this partnership that teachers, schools and districts have made a science of encouraging parental involvement, dedicating the same kind of resources to the task that they do for more traditional educational goals such as improving reading scores.
Best practices for educators include making the first move, even visiting the home, in recognition of research showing that many parents feel uncomfortable in the school environment. In addition, principals are turning to email as a supplement to their robocalls to keep open the all-important channels of communication with parents. Some schools also schedule special times like "math nights," luring participants with food, and leverage parents' individual skills in seeking them out for volunteer work.
Schools play an important role in determining the levels of parental involvement, EduSource says. Specifically, they can outline their expectations of parents and regularly communicate with parents about what children are learning.
The Families tab on the website of the Hills-borough County School District includes a link to Parent/Family Community Involvement. There, parents can scrutinize a host of data including enrollment demographics and the performance of their children's schools.
There's also a link to a brochure with steps parents can take to help their children with assignments, from preschool through high school. A common refrain: Talk to your child's teacher.
Seeing mom or dad on campus in some capacity drives home the importance they place on education.
It also poses the greatest challenge for families whose children may need the most help — English learners and students from low-income households who may have difficulty with language and transportation.
For these families, the school district offers a tool than can help with parent involvement — Internet service for $9.95 per month via Connect2Compete, a program managed through Bright House Networks that offers high-speed connectivity to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
But the key ingredients for all parents may be free — time and patience. This is what it takes to make sure children are doing their homework, that they understand the material, that they're not falling behind, and that they're providing answers more thorough than the dismissive "everything's fine" when queried.
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Free doesn't mean easy, though. A parent who already has put in a full day's work or more must sacrifice to carry out this second, even third job.
Because it is a job, one that will require clocking in mentally every day now that summer vacation is winding down.
A checklist can help, too.