February 16, 2012, marked an important day in education. Parents, administrators and community partners from all over Georgia gathered in Athens to participate in the first ever Statewide Conference on Family Engagement. This remarkable endeavor was unanimously adopted in late 2010 and is a new collaborative partnership between the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia PTA for parents and educators. Nearly fifty specialized workshops were offered by field experts covering topics ranging from Early Reading and Starting with a Strong Foundation to Internet Safety and Drop-Out Prevention with many more heavy hitting lectures in between, all aimed at the ideal of developing successful strategies to support public school programs that empower students and engage families. Keynote speakers shared their expertise on current research, personal experiences and reported findings of pilot programs. The message of the need for supporting strong parent-student-teacher relationships has been well received and is well documented.
PTAs in Cobb County, as well as across the country, are implementing programming that bolsters the Six National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. These are:
Standard 1: Welcoming all families into the school community. Families are active participants in the life of the school, and feel welcomed, valued,and connected to each other, to school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class.
Standard 2: Communicating effectively. Families and school staff engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning.
Standard 3: Supporting student success. Families and school staff continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school, and have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively.
Standard 4: Speaking up for every child. Families are empowered to be advocates for their own and other children, to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.
Standard 5: Sharing power. Families and school staff are equal partners in decisions that affect children and families, and together inform, influence, and create policies, practices, and programs.
Standard 6: Collaborating with community. Families and school staff collaborate with community members to connect students, families, and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services, and civic participation.
There is a compelling call rippling out in our communities for us to fully embrace this powerful initiative beginning with small steps at home. There are simple things all parents can do to improve their family’s school experience, like keeping
personal contact information current, setting priorities that support academic achievement and actively participating
in school parent-teacher conferences. Additionally, PTAs can identify a parent or teacher volunteer to serve as Family
Engagement Chair who will collaborate with administration to support the school’s educational objectives. It’s worth
noting that this action may look different in different schools.
Each school determines academic performance and other priorities according to multiple factors. Whether the plan is to emphasize reading, language arts, math, or science, the goal of Family Engagement is to create more opportunities for families and schools to work together to support these defined objectives.
(Reprinted from the March 2012 issue of EAST COBBER magazine. Written by Jena Ritchie, East Cobb County Council PTA Family Engagement Chair. Jena is married with two school-aged children. She’s lived in Metro Atlanta a cumulative of ten years, having resided in East Cobb County for seven of them.)