3 Back-to-School Things Families Need to Know

Illinois students are heading back to school now or in the next few weeks. Here are three key things that parents need to know that your PTA should be educating them about.

  1. Family engagement is critical to student success.Research shows that real family engagement, not just newsletters home or brief parent-teacher conferences twice a year, is a critical to long-term student success. Students with engaged families have better attendance, higher graduation rates, better social skills and behavior, and increased student achievement. Additional research has shown that schools would need to spend an additional $1,000 more per pupilto see the same increases in student achievement that come from a truly engaged family.
  2. Every child deserves a safe and supportive school.When a child feels safe and secure, they can focus on learning both at school and in the home. Every child should have a school and home environment safe from the threat of physical and psychological harm. National PTA recently strengthened our position on this with their position statement on safe and supportive schools.
  3. Learning starts with attendance.Simply put, children need to be in school in order to learn. It seems obvious, but chronic absenteeism is a critical issue for many Illinois schools. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are far less likely than their peers to read proficiently at the end of third grade. Families and schools need to work together as partners to make sure students attend school and to identify and address the barriers to attendance.

Your PTA’s Role

Your PTA is a critical partner in educating families about these issues and working to address them in your school. To increase family engagement, participate in this year’s National PTA School of Excellence program. PTAs in Illinois who have earned this designation have seen dramatic increases in family participation in school events, PTA meetings and volunteers, and school climate. Get your principal on board and sign up before October 1, 2018 (earlier is better, so don’t wait). Illinois PTA has created a School of Excellence Support Group to help PTA’s navigate the program, headed by Southern Region Director (and leader of Kreitner Elementary PTA’s becoming a National School of Excellence) Greg Hobbs. Contact your district or region director for more information about the program.

Address your school’s climate not only through the School of Excellence program, but also through National PTA’s Connect for Respect programto address bullying. Use the program to engage students, families, and educators on a step-by-step process to assess school climate, to discuss and brainstorm ways to overcome weaknesses found in the assessment, and to develop an action plan that educates and empowers your school community to create a safe school environment. Use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkitto ensure you are engaging to all families.

Work with your school principal and use PTA’s many programsto bring families into your school. As part of those programs, include a short kickoff meeting or provide handouts on critical issues to help parents support their child’s education. Use the resources in National PTA’s Local Leader Kitand Illinois PTA’s Leadership Resources(ask your PTA president for this year’s password) to show families why they should be joining your PTA.