The concept of parent involvement in schools dates back more than a century in the U.S. The national Parent Teacher Association (PTA) was established in 1897 and continues to thrive today. Researchers point to an increase in parent involvement in the 1940s and 1950s, when teachers began communicating regularly with parents and volunteering in the schools became more common.
By the 1960s, many educators and policy-makers, supported by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (as it was then known), began emphasizing the importance of parent involvement on a more formal and persistent basis-a call to action that school districts and government agencies at all levels continue to emphasize today.
Many school administrators and teachers take the concept further and encourage widespread community involvement in schools-through tutoring, partnerships with businesses and cultural groups, and other school-community ties. Over the past few decades, school buildings have typically been designed with community use in mind, enabling local residents to use facilities for sports and recreation, the performing arts, adult education, and other public events. Most school administrators believe that such accessibility is key to enhancing long-term community support.
Promoting Higher Student Performance
Despite the progress made over the years in engaging communities-and in particular the families of students-many parents and guardians still do not participate in their children’s education. According to the PTA, only one in four parents are actively involved in their child’s education today, and of working parents, only one in nine.
Like many school systems around the country, Peoria School District 150 continues to seek new ways to strengthen relationships with parents and family members, as well as with businesses and other organizations that can contribute to enhancing student education. Research indicates that the more parents are involved in their children’s education, the higher the performance achieved by the child. Studies also show that children of parents who do not become involved tend to perform at a lower level, have more behavioral problems, and are more likely to miss school.
“Many parents underestimate the impact they can have in terms of the success of their child’s education,” says District 150 Superintendent Ken Hinton. “My own experiences have shown how important family involvement can be. I’ve had a chance to follow students whose parents had a high level of involvement in their children’s education, and those students had a far better record of attendance and academic performance.
“We are looking to make parents full partners,” Hinton adds. “We are looking to elevate their involvement and make them part of the decision-making process. Parents are providing input on staffing, for example, and on curriculum issues. If you don’t involve parents in a meaningful way, you are overlooking a great resource. It’s a priority for our school district this year.”
Judy Helm, Ed.D., an educational consultant to Peoria School District 150, agrees. “It’s important to think of family involvement as more than just volunteering. Volunteering and joining the PTA may be important, but parents can have a much greater impact than that. They can serve as advocates for their children’s education. They can stay in touch with their child’s teacher and learn how to communicate more effectively with their children.”
Helm brings considerable expertise in family involvement in education to District 150, where she has most recently consulted on the development of the district’s two new Community Learning Centers. The Community Learning Centers, which accommodate preschool through eighth grade, incorporate many spaces that encourage and support family involvement in the schools, including family resource centers and adult education rooms. “The new schools that we are building and the programming we are offering will become national models,” says Hinton.
Bringing Business into the Schools
Both Hinton and Helm point out that parents can also provide an important link to the opportunities presented by business involvement in the schools. “Parents should take note of their child’s interests and help discover individual talents and skills,” Helm says. “There are many opportunities to help children explore their interests and potentially their future careers.”
In Peoria, community-based businesses are involved in the school district in a number of ways. More than 100 businesses, as well as churches and other organizations, now participate in the highly successful Adopt-a-School program, established by the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce in 1984. Other programs include Project Lead the Way, which brings businesses into schools to work with students who have an interest in science, engineering and technology. District 150 has collaborated with the architectural and engineering firm of PSA-Dewberry and Caterpillar Inc., to develop instructional programs and activities and introduce students to career opportunities in these fields.
“The most important aspect of business involvement in education is the individuals who come into the classroom and make a difference,” says Hinton. “It really adds another dimension to education, and it’s an additional resource that our staff members really appreciate.”
Methodist Medical Center of Illinois has found another vital way to become involved in District 150 and other area schools. The hospital has established several in-school health centers to provide basic healthcare services to students, including annual exams, inoculations, vision and hearing screenings, and other diagnosis and treatment. Methodist President and CEO Michael Bryant says that some of the programs may be expanded in time to include services for parents and other family members-an initiative aimed at enhancing family wellness and relieving crowded emergency rooms.
“We’ve been providing in-school health services for several years,” says Bryant. “Studies show that children who have health issues don’t come to school as often, don’t study as much, and don’t perform as well. We believe that we’re providing a valuable service for these students.”
Ken Hinton agrees with that assessment. “We now have so many more children who are healthy and are coming to school regularly-students who have had their medical issues resolved through the in-school service. In the past, many of these students didn’t have routine medical care. It’s making a huge difference for thousands of children. For some children, the access to medical care has changed their whole lives.”
Bryant points out that one of the newest-and most significant-components of the in-school service is the program’s recent conversion to electronic medical records. “Electronic records enable us to have better data on each child and a more complete history,” he says. “We can interface with their current doctors within our system, and we can do a better job of identifying and monitoring proactive measures to keep them healthy.”
The in-school service also has the potential to be an educational tool, Bryant points out. “The students have access to their own records,” he says. “We can help them learn about health and wellness. I also believe that the Methodist Medical Center staff members are important role models for the children-I think it makes a huge impact. If we can make a difference in the students’ lives now, the impact down the road will be even greater.
“The school district, including the superintendent and the principals, are very amenable to having local businesses come into the schools,” adds Bryant. “They are very positive to work with. We’ve made a commitment and the school district has made a commitment-we want to ensure that every child is healthy enough to learn.”
Through initiatives like these, many businesses have committed to making a meaningful contribution to the students of Peoria School District 150. With the increasing involvement and support of parents and family members, children in Peoria clearly have a promising future. iBi
Paul Kouri, AIA, is an architect and project manager in the Peoria office of PSA-Dewberry.