When parents are involved in their children’s schooling, they can significantly increase students’ chances of graduating from high school and going on to college. Parent involvement is particularly important when a student would be the first in the family to enroll in college, and when poverty is a barrier. Yet many parents face obstacles to involvement, especially Latino parents who lack knowledge of the U.S. school system and the English language according to Amy Aparicio Clark, project director EDC’s PALMS (Postsecondary Access for Latino Middle-grades Students) project. A new resource that helps schools reach out more effectively to parents, developed by PALMS, is now available.
“The materials, Tools for Latino Family Outreach: Supporting Student Success in the Middle Grades and Beyond, fill a gap,” says Clark. “There was a need for resources that systematically guide school leaders through the process of building an outreach program for Latino families,” she says, adding that the materials can easily be adapted to strengthen relationships with any group of parents.
With funding from the Lumina Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Fund, PALMS staff will study how Tools for Latino Family Outreach is used by three middle-grades schools across the country.
“We want to observe what happens when schools use the toolkit and see how they bring it to life,” says Clark. “The toolkit is meant to be a stand alone resource, so we are observing and not providing any technical assistance.” The three selected schools will be observed quarterly over a two year period, after which the findings of the study will be disseminated to the school districts involved and nationally through a DVD showing the toolkit being used and a series of case studies. The DVD and case studies are meant to show future users of the toolkit how the tools can be applied in school settings, says Clark.
Tools for Latino Family Outreach is based on a PALMS study on best practices for reaching out to Latino families. “A key finding is the idea that as parents have more information about the school system, they are more likely to seek out the help of school personnel if problems arise,” says Clark. She cites a recent report, A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, that demonstrates the importance of parents having a close relationship with their children’s school. It concludes that “students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, were more likely to:
- Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs
- Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits
- Attend school regularly
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school
- Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.”
“The project focuses on middle grades because that is the time when students make key choices about their futures and develop the knowledge and skills to take them through high school and beyond,” says Clark.
The PALMS toolkit guides school leaders through five stages in the process of reaching out to families: establishing a shared vision for family involvement, planning an outreach program, mapping community resources, implementation, and evaluation. It can be used by schools that are just starting out as well as those whose programs are well developed. The toolkit was field tested in five middle-grades schools across the U.S.“Even educators with well-established parent outreach programs gained new ideas and inspiration from using it,” says Clark.
“The toolkit uses well-established strategies that have worked in community and organizational development,” says Clark.
Involving the entire community is a key aspect of any outreach activity. The toolkit suggests that a cross section of four to six people including administrators, community partners, parents, and teachers, should be designated to lead the outreach process. “In outreach efforts, especially with new populations, you cannot only count on school resources, you need to look outside the school building at the entire community,” says Clark.
Originally published on August 31, 2006