Schools struggle in outreach to parents of young children

Schools struggle in outreach to parents of young children

(District of Columbia) Teachers and administrators want to foster communication with families of pre-school aged children but few know how to accomplish that–an issue that may improve as early education expands, according to a new survey.

The research, conducted by The Center for College & Career Readiness with Office Depot’s Committed to Learning Initiative, found that 97 percent of the 5,200 educators that participated said communication between schools and parents of children not yet school-aged was important for Kindergarten readiness.

Only 23 percent, however, felt they had the tools to reach out to those families.

“One of the challenges is that the K-12 and early education systems are not always necessarily connected in many states,” Susan Therriault, principal researcher at the American Institute for Research, said in an interview. “But there is a lot of attention on early education now, so we’re seeing these improvements in structure and ideas of what students need from early education.”

Research has long shown that family involvement in a student’s education correlates with higher academic performance, better attendance and graduation rates. And under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states, districts and schools must involve parents “meaningfully” in developing education improvement plans and school report cards.

Many states have also poured resources into improving early education and adding slots for low-income families to enroll students in state-funded pre-Kindergarten so that they enter kindergarten better prepared. But those who do not enter pre-k classrooms may enter kindergarten unprepared if schools cannot help parents before the first day.

“Children who come to kindergarten with greater language skills and higher exposure to vocabulary have more positive outcomes in school,” said Barbie Kendrick, director of teaching and learning at Murray County Schools in Georgia. “We want to provide families simple ideas to use to improve language acquisition and vocabulary development, and we want families to be excited about Pre-K and send children when they are old enough to enroll.”

Kendrick said that while it is difficult for the school system to touch base with families before a child begins pre-k or kindergarten, expanding outreach efforts beyond just sending postcards has helped involve more parents.

Currently, the district also advertises family nights in the local newspaper and place flyers in community locations and grocery stores, and collaborates with a summer feeding program where families pick up free lunches to provide books and other literacy activities to complete at home.

Often, parents may not understand the importance of talking or singing to children and reading to them to increase literacy. Other times, they aren’t aware of activities that will improve children’s comprehension.

Increased communication between districts and parents, however, can improve not only student readiness, but family and school readiness as well, according to Donna O' Brien, vice president of professional and program development for the Parents as Teachers National Center.

“Every parent wants their child to be happy and successful, but many are just unsure how to get there,” O' Brien said, noting that issues can stem from feeling uncomfortable helping with homework or difficulties in setting routines.

If schools can develop relationships with incoming families, she said, then schools will be ready to receive families and create a welcoming environment; families will have established morning and homework schedules; and children will show up healthy and academically ready.

Becki Schwietz, senior director of K-12 initiatives for Office Depot, Inc., said that with widespread adoption of college and career ready standards, it would behoove schools to get a jump on helping parents prepare their students early through play activities for math readiness or information about community resources and events, including social-service and support agencies.

“New requirements for college and career readiness begin at the earliest grades,” Schwietz said in an email. “In order to start on-track and stay on-track, students need to begin kindergarten with a higher degree of readiness in language and math skills than ever before.”

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