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Pulling in Parents: Changes that Work

By Faye T. Arco | April 2018

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Increasing parental involvement begins with a belief system. We have to believe that parents want to be actively involved in their children’s education and then act accordingly. We have tremendous parent support for our comprehensive school counseling program at my middle school.

We are in our fifth year of program improvement. Ninety percent of our students live in poverty and qualify for free lunch; 85 percent are English-language learners. Thirty-three percent of our students report having one or more incarcerated parent, and that number jumps to 75 percent when including immediate family members who are incarcerated. We are the middle school for homeless sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. You get the picture.

It would be so easy to look at our families and pity them, to throw up our hands at the plethora of roadblocks to parental involvement. However, we believe in our families, so we succeed in having tremendous parental involvement.

We follow the ASCA National Model and started with a needs assessment: What do our families need? How do they feel about coming to school? Is the open door really open? We used surveys, phone calls, chatting in the community, student study team meetings and parent forums to gather information. Then we looked at roadblocks and strategies to overcome them and meet the needs. We included a parent survey in our registration packet (see “Middle School Parent Survey”). Getting the survey returned is easier when it is part of the registration packet because students can’t get their schedules without turning in everything from the packet. We give the same survey at the end-of-year open house. We give a raffle ticket to each parent who turns in a completed survey and hold a drawing that night for prizes from local sponsors. We use the data from the pre/post survey to evaluate our program effectiveness and in our report to our stakeholders.

Beyond any survey, you know your school, your students, your parents and your community. Look hard at what you know and gather information from a random sample of your stakeholders (students, parents, staff, community members, district office personnel, law enforcement, mental health agencies, etc.). Remember that change is a three- to five-year process. Start small and measure the change each time. Following are some of our parent programs and how we increased participation.

Counselor-led Parent Insight Night: We offered this program at the district office for parents of students in alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence (ATODV) groups. District-level school counselors facilitated the program, which brought in about 10 percent of parents.

Now: We changed the format from counselor-led to student-led, presented it at each school site or at one school site per cluster, and offered certificates and refreshments. We used English Language Development (ELD) Programs and Title I funds to pay for gift bags and “I love you” pins, which the students pinned on their parents. The result? A 90 percent parent turnout.

Counseling services: In the past, parents had to make an appointment during school hours to see the school counselor.

Now: Parents may come in any time from one hour before school through three hours after school ends. We also schedule monthly nights to accommodate working parents, and we invite the entire family to participate in each event or meeting. For walk-ins, we have an assigned counselor of the day and administration supports flexible scheduling for the school counselors who come in early or stay late for these meetings.

AB 1802 parent meetings: These meetings were by scheduled appointment, took 45-90 minutes, and contained much of the same information.

Now: One English-speaking and one Spanish-speaking school counselor have made videos of the information shared at every meeting; parents can come at any time to watch the videos. Pre and post-test instructions are built into the videos. Individual meetings now only take about 15 minutes and flexible scheduling meets parents’ needs. Title I and School Improvement Plan (SIP) funds covered the cost of the videos.

Parenting classes: District-level parent classes had low attendance due to lack of transportation and translation, and promotion only via the Internet.

Now: We now offer parenting classes taught by our teachers and school counselors at the individual schools. The whole family can attend together with child care provided that we fund using district, SIP, Title I and ELD funds.

Community referrals: We provided referrals to local food banks and clothing sources but families struggled with transportation and language barriers. And some found it difficult to work through the system to get what they needed.

Now: Our SKATERS program gives students a chance to get involved in service learning projects that directly benefit our school families in need. Students grow produce on campus for school families in need and mentor incoming sixth-graders. The SKATERS room is open before and after school, three times a week during lunch and during night events, with a food pantry, clothing closet and school supplies closet. SKATERS receives funding from a Boeing grant, Title I and ELD, with garden support from a Home Depot grant and donations.

Proving Effectiveness

Our program results speak for themselves: parent participation increased by a phenomenal 84 percent from 2006–2007 to 2007–2008.

I often share with parents these words from Fred Rogers: “The very best reason parents are so special is because we are the holders of a priceless gift, a gift we received from countless generations we never knew, a gift that only we now possess and only we can give to our children. That unique gift, of course, is the gift of ourselves. Whatever we can do to give that gift and to help others receive it is worth the challenge of all our human endeavor.”

With students, I share this quote from Tiger Woods: “One of the things that my parents have taught me is never listen to other people’s expectations. You should live your own life and live up to your own expectations.”

It is not parent participation alone that is responsible for students reaching their full potential. It is students’ belief in themselves and their ability that makes dreams come true. School counselors encourage that belief, and together with parents, we can help students set goals and fulfill their dreams.

Faye Arco is a school counselor in Moreno Valley, Calif., and was a finalist in ASCA’s 2008 School Counselor of the Year program. 

Sample Middle School Parent Survey

Dear Parent/Guardian,

Please answer the following questions by checking the box that most fits your choice so we may use this information when planning our school counseling activities. We will distribute this same survey at the end of the year to measure program success. Your input is extremely important to us.

Strongly Agree/Agree/Neither Agree nor Disagree/Disagree/Strongly Disagree
  1. I know how to access school counseling services for my child.     
  2. My child knows how to access school counseling services for himself/herself.     
  3. I am familiar with the American School Counselor Association’s Standards for Student Competencies.     
  4. My child is familiar with the American School Counselor Association’s Standards for Student Competencies.      
  5. I know how to access the school counseling department on the school website.     
  6. My child knows how to access the school counseling department on the school website.     
  7. I know how to access positive activities facilitated by the school counselors (SKATERS., Career Clubs, Peer Mediators, Cesar Chavez Garden)     
  8. My child knows how to participate in positive activities facilitated by the school counselors (SKATERS, Career Clubs, Peer Mediators, Cesar Chavez Garden)     
  9. I am familiar with the counseling requirements of California Assembly Bill 1802.     
  10. The school counselors at [school] have helped my family.     
  11. The school counselors at [school] care about students.     
  12. I am pleased with the school counseling services provided by the [school] counseling department.