Building Real Family Engagement with Your PTA Events

PTAs tend to do a lot of events. From carnivals and fun fairs to class parties to PTA programs like Reflections, PTAs know how to provide fun and engaging activities for families. And while this type of family engagement does a good job of getting families through the school doors, PTAs could do better at creating real family engagement that makes a big difference for children.

Research has shown that truly engaged families are critical to student success, providing the equivalent of an additional $1,000/student of spending. But to get that kind of result, families need to do more than just walk through the school doors and have a good time. They need to be engaged to support student learning outside the school walls.

Edutopia recently published an article on making the most of families’ time at school. While aimed at teachers and school administrators, the article provides some useful guidance for PTAs on creating events that build real family engagement. The family engagement that makes a difference is that which gets families in the classroom, participating in their child’s learning and activities that they do at school, and learning and understanding data about their child’s performance. Here are some key points from the article for PTAs:

  • Work with your school administration to create events that tie into current learning objectives. Improving student achievement won’t come from families taking pictures of kids in costumes at a Halloween parade or Thanksgiving performance. When these events get families in the school, take advantage of that to get them into the classroom as well by including math games around the theme of the event. Focus on those key ideas that your school is trying to get all children to master, like reading fluently on grade level and understanding basic math facts.
  • Make sure your events work with teachers’ schedules as well, especially if you are trying to include academic supports in your events with teachers’ help. Find out what other things are going on in teachers’ lives around the time you want to hold your event. Is it the same time that teachers are busy with end-of-semester assessments or preparing materials for parent-teacher conferences?
  • Time your events to work for all of those involved. School day events won’t work for working parents, and evening events are often hard for teachers to attend. Late afternoon or early evening events may work for both teachers staying after school and families getting off of work. Consider feeding everyone as part of your event.
  • Work with teachers to integrate an event’s theme into what the classes are doing. If you’re doing a circus themed event, having teachers integrate that theme into their lessons and showcasing that work during the event can build excitement among the children to get their families to come and see what they have been learning and doing.

With just a few tweaks and by working with your teachers and principal, PTAs can turn events into a fun time that supports families and student achievement, and that is how PTAs can create transformative family engagement.

Every Student Counts, Every Day Matters

Eighty percent of success is showing up. Nowhere is that more true than for our kids in school. Chronic absenteeism—missing at least 10% of the school days in a year for any reason, excused or unexcused—is a primary cause of low academic achievement and a powerful predictor of those students who may eventually drop out.

Missing 10% of school days seems like a lot, but in reality it is only missing two days each month. And it’s important to remember that even excused absences are included when measuring chronic absenteeism. An estimated 5 to 7.5 million students are chronically absent each year.

Chronic absenteeism is caused by many different issues—chronic health conditions, housing instability, involvement with the juvenile justice system, unsafe conditions in school, among many others. Students from low-income households, students of color, students with disabilities, students who move frequently, and juvenile justice involved youth are more likely to struggle with attendance problems, and these are most often the students who already face significant challenges in school. Research also indicates that chronic absenteeism can negatively affect the academic achievement of other students in the classroom, not just the absentee.

Chronic absenteeism is such a critical issue that Illinois created the Illinois Attendance Commission in 2015 to address the issue. Chronic absenteeism is also likely to be part of the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure(IBAM) that will be used to assess schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It may also count as a double measure for those students in kindergarten through second grade.

There are several resources that PTAs can use to help educate and inform families on the importance of student attendance. The Illinois Attendance Commission has created a short video with long-time Chicago broadcaster Merri Dee.

 

The US Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice have collaborated to create a toolkit for communities to address chronic absenteeism. The toolkit, called Every Student, Every Day, offers information, suggested action steps, and lists of existing tools and resources to help organizations and individuals who touch every aspect of a student’s life to work together to address and eliminate chronic absenteeism.

The organization Attendance Works has additional data and resources on how your PTA and school can address chronic absenteeism. Among the items available are:

Talk with your school principal or district superintendent about what they are doing to address chronic absenteeism and what your PTA can do to help.

Supporting Your Teen at School

Your child spends almost one-third of their day at school, which makes it an important influence on their life. In the teen years, that influence likely grows as their friends opinions begin to play a more central role in their lives. One of the most powerful indicators of teenagers’ success in school is their connection to school—feeling like they belong at the school and are close to others there, including teachers. Attachment to school is associated with lower use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana, as well as lower rates of sexual activity, fewer thoughts about or attempts at suicide, and lower levels of violent behavior.

Research shows that even in the teen years, parents who are involved in their child’s education improve their academic success. Yet many parents become less involved as their child reaches middle and high school. While your child may be breaking away a bit more as they reach the teen years and look for more independence, there are still ways for you to be involved. The extension office at the University of Minnesota has some suggestions:

  • Expect success
  • Communicate with teachers
  • Support student activities
  • Volunteer in the school
  • Involve both parents
  • Encourage your teen to tutor or mentor others
  • Recognize your teen’s academic accomplishments
  • Create a positive home environment that encourages learning
  • Establish quiet time every night for studying, reading, or writing
  • Provide extra support to your teen during transitional times
  • Talk with your teen about their school classes and activities and monitor their attendance
  • Keep a calendar that lists school events, projects, and activities, as well as family events
  • Use screens wisely
  • Know how and where your kids spend free time, especially after school

For more information on these points, see the full article from Minnesota extension.

Local Unit Spotlight: STEPS PTSA Takes On The World!

Today’s post kicks off a new series highlighting the good things that our local PTAs and Councils are doing. If your PTA or Council would like to brag a bit about what they are doing, send a short write-up to your District or Region Director, noting that it’s for One Voice Illinois. Don’t forget to send us some pictures of your event as well!

STEPS PTSA, servicing the Indian Prairie District 204 transition program for young adults with disabilities, kicked off the 2018 school year in style! More than 50 PTSA members, including parents, teachers, students, alumni, administrators, and school board members were on hand to celebrate a summer of successful and noteworthy achievements.

The STEPS PTSA recognized 17 students and coaches for their accomplishments. Their accomplishments included Special Olympics state qualifiers, members of Team USA—Unified Cup tournament, Special Olympics USA games, Special Olympics World Games, keynote speaker at the National Best Buddies conference, keynote speaker at the Special Olympics Women in Leadership breakfast, MLS All-Star athlete, and members of the Chicago Fire All-Star soccer team. The students and coaches each shared their amazing experiences with the audience and each brought memorabilia, photos, medals, uniforms, and newspaper articles to display. The audience cheered them on waving pom-poms and rally towels. It was a wonderful celebration of student abilities and a fantastic way to start the year!

The STEPS PTSA was formed in 2017 with the goal of focusing on the unique abilities of these young adults and supporting the STEPS Transition Program. The STEPS PTSA works to create social opportunities, activities, and events that allow their members to get involved in the community. STEPS Alumni are an important part of the PTSA. They are invited to join the PTSA so that they will continue to have access to social and community activities and events. The STEPS PTSA knows the importance of building an inclusive culture and breaking down barriers. The sky is the limit for the STEPS PTSA students and alumni!