As students enter the middle grades, they seek greater independence. Parents try to help their children expand their horizons, but they may lack confidence in their ability to assist with the increasingly difficult schoolwork and social issues. Research shows that parent involvement decreases as students start middle school. The pressures preteens face, however, are ones that parents can address if they are given assistance from educators. NNPS middle schools show how to involve parents to help their children reach their full potential.
PTA/PTO meetings are one way to involve middle grades families, but attendance often falls short of what organizers would like. The principal of William H. Farquhar Middle School in Olney, MD, worked with the Action Team for Partnerships (ATP) to increase meeting attendance by planning PTA meetings at three locations in the community-basically bringing the PTA to the parents. The well-attended meetings began with a pizza dinner, followed by a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation by the principal. After the presentation about the middle school curriculum and how it connects to course choices in high school, parents split into groups to share ideas about how to help students balance schoolwork and outside activities, discuss a student's progress with the teacher and the student, and set boundaries for middle school students.
At Kickemuit Middle School in Warren, RI, a language barrier between the school and a large number of Portuguese-speaking families contributed to a lack of involvement. To increase school-family partnerships, the ATP used questionnaires to determine what teachers needed volunteers to do and what family members could provide. The Parent Survey, distributed in English and Portuguese, asked parents to indicate their interests, talents, and availability. The ATP used the surveys to create a computer database of parent volunteers. A parent volunteer coordinator accessed the database to identify and contact a room parent for each homeroom. The room parents managed teacher and parent volunteer requests.
Washington Junior High School in Naperville, IL, involved families in academics by including parents on the School Improvement Team. Three parents joined teachers to learn about the classroom assessment process with monthly readings and discussions. The readings led team members to examine trends, strategies, and current practices in testing as they applied to their school. Based on their discussions, teachers and parents made testing recommendations to the principal.
Even though research shows that parent involvement decreases over time, the need for it does not. By making an extra effort when students reach the middle grades, schools can help parents maintain their involvement in their children's education. For more information about these promising practices or other ways to involve families during the middle grades, visit www.partnershipschools.org, click on In the Spotlight, and choose the 2005 collection of Promising Partnership Practices.