First, I want to acknowledge and thank Lashondria Adolph, student at George Murray Elementary, for her excellent presentation to the Board of Education. Lashondria volunteered to present information on her recent field trip to the Sekw'elwas Restoration Project, where Mrs. Meiklem's class planted trees and surveyed the area for bear tracks, deer scat, and other natural history. Kukwstum?úlhkal?ap Lashondria.
November is my first anniversary as a school board trustee. It has been a steep learning curve, and I look forward to putting more pieces of the puzzle together over the course of this coming year. One thing I have learned is, education is in transition. I started my school career in 1963 in Calgary - the boys entered the school through one door and the girls entered through another. When I first started university, you could smoke in class (except for the first three rows of course). One of the big changes in education has been the idea of teaching in teams. We now have teachers, teaching assistants, and other resource staff to support the learning needs of students. And like banning smoking in classrooms, I think teaching in teams is a good idea.
Recently, we have seen a lot of discussion about engaging parents into the teaching team. In May 2012, the Ministry of Education released a draft Parent Engagement Strategy that acknowledges "parents as the child's first teacher" and seeks to make them an active partner in the teaching team. I suspect parent engagement does not even go far enough. I suspect what we really are aiming for is "family and community engagement."
The reason for this push to engage families is simple. Students learn better and perform better when their families support their learning. I Googled "parent engagement in education" and came up with numerous reports and plans that all reach the same conclusions: The largest influence on student achievement is the degree to which families encourage learning and become involved in their student's education. High family involvement also contributes to better school attendance, lower rates of violence and substance abuse, and higher graduation rates. And family engagement has this powerful effect regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic or racial background, or parents' education level.
But very real barriers exist. One survey found over 80 per cent of parents feel they do not have enough time to become so involved in their child's school. One-third of parents believe they have nothing to contribute to their child's education, and one-third report they do not know how to become involved. The good news is that families respond to encouragement from schools. The attitudes and actions of the school toward family and community involvement are more important than a family's income, educational level, or race in determining whether the family becomes involved.
My Google search also identified some strong themes in terms of encouraging family involvement:
Communication - Like any team, regular communication between its members is vital. Communication between families and teachers should be frequent (weekly) and meaningful.
Support for Parenting and Teaching - Many schools provide parent education and support programs to help families support their student's learning. Decisions families make about diet, lifestyle, and discipline can support student learning. In general, the more schools support families to support their students, the more likely student achievement is to improve.
Involving Families in Decision-making - Families are an important player in the teaching team and require a central role in decision-making. For example, when families are involved in decisions about implementing a new reading program, and strategies for reinforcing the program at home, student achievement improves.
Linkages with the Wider Community - Involving families in schools leads to also engaging employers and community organizations that have natural links with parents and families.
The Gold Trail Board of Education is committed to working with parents, families, communities and community groups to increase their involvement in the education activities provided by our schools. I am interested in hearing from both families and the community as a whole on how they would like to be engaged: Jim MacArthur (250) 256-3287. The toll free number to reach the school district office is 1-855-453-9101. As well, your local trustee is always receptive to being contacted directly.