Linda Fine, I’m an administrative intern at Scofield Magna Middle School at Stanford Conn.
Okay the the Scofield Magna Middle School we try to do with our um non-English speaking families and we do have a bilingual population in our school approximately a hundred students our of the 650 students. What we do is we try to make families feel welcome. That’s the most important thing, um a climate a culture in our building that we have an open door policy. Families know they can come in um they’re welcome and we do do most of our in fact all of our newsletters are translated into Spanish for them. We have a, probably every six weeks are parents put out a news letter letting parents know what’s happening in the school curriculum wise and what will be happening. Um we have our nurse speaks Spanish. We have a bilingual guidance counselor in our building also who is a wonderful assent um to help reach out for these families also. Our eighth grade bilingual population has to do an exhibition in order to graduation from our school. We’re a member of the coalition of essential schools and in order to that exhibition we have an evening dinner for all our eighth grade students including the bilingual to explain what the exhibition process is and how the parents at home can help them and for our population of bilingual students we have a translator that does that also.
What we do to try to make families feel welcome in our building is it’s it’s just our atmosphere I have to say um we’re a magnet school um in an urban setting so we need to try to attract families who are interested in our program. We’re a science, math, technology minded school and that’s one of the things that the parents say when they come into our school building how they feel welcome and how wonderful the kids are when they’re walking in the halls they’ll come over and greet them. Um it’s very important that you have a main office that um has a welcoming environment. Um we’re in a brand new school building this year and we made sure that our counters are extremely low so that there is not a division between a secretary sitting behind a barrier in a way. Um it’s it’s just a friendly warm atmosphere. I I can’t really describe it to you but as an administrator you can go around in other buildings and you can pick up vibes in like ten-fifteen minutes when you’re walking through the hallways, talking to kids or going into a classroom. It’s just a feeling you get.
In order to get parents to feel that they’re welcome in a school building you really do need to develop um and have a two-way communication system. And a two-way communication system means that not only are you sending things home to parents but parents know that they can send things back to school and it has to be equal. It has to balanced and we have um our students have agenda books and um it’s just like my palm pilot we uh get them to make sure that they are organized and write their homework assignments down and at the bottom of every day there is a place for comments. For teachers to make comments or for parents to make comments and we require our students to have a signature once a week um by a parent to sign that agenda book so that parent has seen what the assignments were and knows what’s happening. It’s a communication tool. If I were a teacher and I needed to speak to your mom to let her know what a wonderful job you’ve done on a project as opposed to negative job which usually a lot of contacts are I would write a comment in your agenda book that you did a fabulous job on you project I’m thrilled um and probably mom or dad would get a response back. We try to use that communication truly an agenda book not just for negative comments, which tends to be what happens in schools. If you get a phone call home from a school it’s usually oh my gosh what did my child do? And um we really do try to reach parents when kids are doing a good job. So when they get that phone call home from the school it’s not like oh my gosh what did she do today?
The communication. Um Joyce Ebsteen believes and the research has proven that two-way communication tool is what’s so important so that’s why we have the agenda book for communication. We also um our school our population is a totally diverse population. We have students who come from very wealthy families and we have students, thirty four percent of our school is free or reduced lunch. Um so we do have a diverse population. But approximately ninety percent of our students have computers, which is pretty high. Um so we do use our web site um which is actually a community service run by students, our web site, and um that’s another communication tool and again two way parents can get back to teachers or get back to me as an administrator. Um we have a homework hot-line system where parents can call up um find our information via telephone also. Um the size of communication Joyce Ebsteen has six different ones. One’s volunteering. When we have new incoming parents coming into our school um we get them to get right involved as soon as they can. We have our PTP parents there; we do an orientation night in June for new incoming families that are going to be coming into our school to talk about how they can help their kids behind the scenes. Um a lot of our families are working mothers so we tell that there are all ways they can volunteer. We have a parent advisory network where we try to get in touch with all the parents via telephone, leaving messages that way also. Um parents can volunteer by expertise in a certain field. Um this year our sixth graders are doing the bio blitz and we had an evening session where we got our parents to come in to explain what the bio blitz was going to involve and how they were going to need to help out and we’re getting things like coffee cans coming in um Tupperware containers, all kinds of things and how we’re going to need them um in June, I think it’s the 5th and 6th. We’re going to do it overnight also. Um and we’re going to need the parents helping out in that respect also. So volunteering is is another one of hers. Decision making. Uh we have a combine, which is a governing body of our school. Our cabinet is comprised of an administrator, uh teachers, one teacher from each team, student from each team in our school building and a parent from each team in our school building and once a month on about 1:30 in the afternoon, it’s during school time, and we’ll provide coverage for the teachers so they can come, we have a cabinet meeting and um things like our students now don’t carry backpacks. That was brought up two years ago at the cabinet meeting by students who were complaining that they were heavy and having to lug them around from class to class was too much so um the cabinet voted to do away with backpacks. You can bring them into school put them in your locker but um students walk around our building now holding books as opposed to lugging the backpacks. So decision making is another one of um her means of reaching out to parents. Parenting workshops. Um another fabulous way to reach our parents. Giving them homework tips. Parents want to know how to help their kids and I believe it’s our job as a school to help the parents as best we as educators can in showing them ways to help their kids especially with middle school, early adolescence. We do workshops. One of our first workshops we do for incoming parents is letting them to know what it is to live with an early adolescent. If you’re familiar with Jim Garvindal, Learning how to kiss a frog, that’s a wonderful book. I believe any educator in middle school needs to read because they are actually frogs, slimy skin, can’t sit still, and um by the time they are getting through sixth, seventh, and eighth grade these young eighth graders are ladies and gentlemen all of the sudden. They turn into a prince. So it’s a wonderful book, it’s about 80 pages long. We have our parents, we have a lending library, um videos we’re trying to put in for parents to help educate them to learn what it is.
Our school is really passionate about having a parent school community partnership. Um we were a member of the coalition of essential schools and we believe in the Carnagie report that was put out in 1989 where um there were nine essential um points that were brought out, that the research brought out, what middle school needs to do and one of them is to involve parents. It’s clearly stated in the turning points report and um we follow those principles and that is we’re we’re working for the kids. If you picture the kid in the center, the child in the center and administrator, teacher, parents surrounding we parents want the best for their kids. That’s exactly what educators want and we need to work together as a team, a collaborative partnership team.
One of the major benefits for middle school kids and having a partnership is you might think that middle school kids don’t want their parents involved but they really do. I know a study was just done in the secondary schools, in high schools, where it was also brought out that high school kids do want their parents involved. Um we did a survey in our school also and and the kids do want to spend time with their families discussing what happened in school. It’s just that with the American society and the way time is now and families working it’s just so hard to sit down and do things as a family now and one of the things we we have going in our school also was uh Joyce Ebsteen has interactive homeworks and that’s a wonderful medium to reach out to families to let them know what the curriculum is, going on in the school and also for student, now eleven year old, twelve, thirteen year old, just sit down with an adult member and discuss what’s happening in school.
I truly do believe and I know the research has proven that having a family school community partnership does pay off. That children will succeed, that children will be academically successful most definitely.
I really do believe, I mean I graduated back in 1969, no one ever taught me how to work with parents as an educator. Um I never got to be in another teacher’s classroom to even see a good model of how to even conduct a parent conference. I truly to believe that the universities need to start doing a lot more with getting education courses for our incoming preservice educators on learning how to communicate with parents effectively.