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No parent left behind
Prodded by federal law, America's public school districts have spent the past five years trying to make sure that no child will be left behind academically.
In an effort to meet that goal, schools have sought to involve parents more in the education process.
The result, some national education experts say, is that the No Child Left Behind Act has encouraged school administrators and teachers to embrace a "no parent left behind" philosophy.
The nation's education law has raised awareness about the importance of involving families in the education of their children, said Dr. Karen Mapp, an education lecturer at Harvard University.
"People are more aware of the positive link of homeschool partnerships and academic outcomes," Mapp said.
While educators and administrators of the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school districts have made greater efforts to involve parents, they say their efforts have less to do with federal law than with widely accepted research that shows students do better academically when parents are involved in their children's schooling.
"Districts see that parental involvement is critical to success in schools," said Dr. Beth Emmendorfer, director of special services in the Jackson School District and a supporter of efforts to reach out to parents.
Emmendorfer said the district encourages parent involvement from early childhood through high school.
At the junior high school, parents were invited to eat lunch with their children one day last week. More than 500 parents showed up, Emmendorfer said.
Jackson's South Elementary School has held a chili and math night at which families ate dinner and played math games.
"The kids have fun. The parents have fun," she said.
Jackson teachers and administrators also seek to inform parents through school newsletters and the district's Web site, she said.
"Parental involvement is not just bringing them into the building. It's getting information to them about what is going on, how they can support the kids at home with literacy and math tips," Emmendorfer said.
The Cape Girardeau School District is in the third year of a parent liaison program at Franklin Elementary School. The program was expanded this school year to Jefferson Elementary School and Central Middle School.
Each of the three parent liaisons communicate with families of the students in their particular school. They answer questions about homework, deal with family concerns and encourage parents to attend school activities.
The part-time positions are funded with federal money.
The district plans to expand the program to all of its schools, assuming it can get federal funding for them, school administrators said.
Jamie Jones, the liaison for Jefferson Elementary School and parent of a son in the fourth grade, visits five to 10 families each month in an effort to better involve them in their children's schooling. She also calls and fields phone calls from parents.
To spark more parental involvement, she started the "Three for Me" program in which parents volunteer three hours a year to read books or otherwise help out in the classroom.
So far, about 25 parents have volunteered in classrooms as part of the program, Jones said.
Sherry Mattingly, who has a 6-year-old son in kindergarten, is one of the volunteers.
Mattingly said she's read some of her son's favorite books to his class. She's also helped out in other ways, such as making copies of lesson information for her son's teacher.
"I think it is a really good program," she said. "It really gives you a one-on-one chance to get to know the teacher and the students."
An active role
Busy parents don't have to visit a classroom for an entire hour at a time. Even 15 minutes can make a difference, Mattingly said. "It takes 15 minutes to sit down and read a book."
Mattingly said teachers at Jefferson send notes home to parents about their children's accomplishments.
She said her son, Ashton, is thrilled when she visits the classroom. "He is so proud to show me what he has done," Mattingly said.
Jones said she'd like to see more parents get involved. But in a school where many of the students come from low-income families who don't have easy access to transportation or a tradition of school involvement, Jones believes the program has provided a way for parents to take a more active role in the education process.
The Cape Girardeau School District is reaching out to parents in other ways.
Students bring home school newsletters and information is posted on the district's Web site. The district is also launching a districtwide newsletter that will be mailed to every household in the city.
School officials plan to publish a newsletter at least twice a year and possibly quarterly. The newsletter will include information on everything from the budget to the curriculum and facilities.
Sample MAP tests
"We are just trying to keep people more informed," said assistant superintendent Pat Fanger.
Several of Cape Girardeau's public schools have invited parents to evening meetings to better explain the Missouri Assessment Program standardized math and communication arts tests that students will be taking this spring.
Under No Child Left Behind, schools are judged on the basis of how well students do on standardized tests in math and communication arts.
Jefferson met with parents of third- and fourth-graders Tuesday night in the school cafeteria. Thirteen parents and grandparents attended.
Principal Mark Cook handed out booklets explaining the MAP tests. Those in attendance were given an opportunity to answer to sample test questions to better acquaint them with the type of tests their children will be taking.
At the end of the meeting, the families were treated to pizza.
"I thought it was a really good idea," said Kara Scruggs, who attended the meeting with her fourth-grade daughter, Taylor.
Scruggs said was surprised more parents didn't show up. "I was kind of shocked," she said.
But education expert Anne Henderson of Washington, D.C., co-author of "Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships," said schools often have difficulty reaching low-income and minority parents.
Low-income parents often don't have reliable cars or the flexibility to take off from work, she said. And some parents feel uneasy approaching teachers and school administrators.
Henderson said building relationships with families takes time but is worth the effort.
"Parents want to help their kids and they are already trying," she said. "What we need to do is give them information and skills and opportunities to learn how to help their kids."
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