Parent Involvement Helps Kids, Schools
Involvement Evolves Through a Child's School Career
Tina Tabulog says there is an important perk to being involved in her children’s schools: She knows the administrators and teachers — and her children knows that she knows them.
“I very rarely have problems with my children, but if there ever was a situation, all my kids’ teachers ever had to say was: ‘I’m going to email your mom’ to get their attention. They knew the teachers knew me.”
Tabulog volunteers mostly at Woodward School for Technology and Research but she also has children at Loy Norrix High School and Milwood Magnet School: A Center for Math, Science and Technology. She’s chaperoned dances, helped with district bond campaigns, and printed fliers for PTO meetings to recruit other parents — and then brought snacks for the meetings.
“When your kids see you in school helping, it tells them that this — school — is important,” Tabulog said.
The parent-teacher connection is valuable to Kalamazoo Public Schools on many fronts. Parent involvement helps schools run more efficiently and effectively. Good parent support makes a difference in fundraising, community support, and enrichment at a school. But, on a personal level, parents say being involved in their school gives them insight into how their children are doing, what students are learning, the challenges teachers face, and the needs of all students.
“Volunteering is critical to our children’s success in school at every level, because it shows our support not only for our kids, but the teachers and staff who need support to ensure our children receive the best opportunities,” said Tara Ford, a Loy Norrix High School mother, who through the years has done everything from coach Girls on the Run, chaperone field trips and serve on the KPS Parent Advisory Council.
“I highly recommend getting involved in your child’s school because it enriches your relationship with your children, their friends, teachers and overall educational experience,” Ford said.
Christine Pasztor is a parent at Indian Prairie Elementary School and her children are excited to see her volunteering at school. She believes it not only helps parents connect with the educational process but builds relationships between child and parent.
“When my oldest started kindergarten, he was eager to have me involved and it was important to me to be a part of his school life in order to know what was going on with him and to demonstrate the importance we place on his schooling,” she said. “As the years go on, our children naturally begin to pull away from us. Our involvement may shift from reading to kids in their classrooms or accompanying them on field trips to planning events behind the scenes, but staying involved with their schools can keep us connected with them.
“It can facilitate communication with their teachers and keep us informed about their education and school life. Volunteering at school and events can give us shared experiences with our kids, which increases bonds and communication.”
Parents often volunteer at school because they want to make the educational experience better for their children. But healthy parent-school connections spread beyond a single family to help make schools better for all children.
“I truly appreciate the relationship that was built between the PTO and me at Greenwood,” said Greenwood Elementary School principal Sylvia Washington. “They are a great support to the school community. It means a lot to have a group of parents that is willing to help and who truly wants what’s best for all students at Greenwood Elementary.”
Throughout KPS, parental involvement enriches the school environment through fundraising, teacher support, and special activities.
At Prairie Ridge Elementary School parents launched a highly successful STEAM fair that draws community supporters from Stryker, Western Michigan University and the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Winchell Elementary School parents organize everything from an all-grades science fair to a Kindness Week celebration, and keep the teachers’ lounge spruced up and filled with snacks for staff. At Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts, parents organized a coin drive that raises thousands of dollars for Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes. Even at Loy Norrix High School, where parents take a less hands-on approach in the classroom, parent boosters and volunteers make sure everything from sports to Grad Bash to the musical theater program run smoothly.
Formal parental involvement can be traced back to the late 1800s and the National Congress of Mothers, which evolved into the National Parent Teacher Association. That organization led the charge on a number of key child and school issues such as the advancement of kindergarten classes, promotion of school transportation safety, and institution of school lunch and immunization programs.
“Research has shown that family engagement improves a student’s success in their scholastic career,” said Lucia MacLeod, El Sol Elementary School parent. “A parent doesn’t have to be fully entrenched in the school, but choosing one or two ways to be involved makes a big difference.”
She began volunteering at El Sol when her daughter — and only child — started kindergarten. MacLeod admits there was a little “empty nest” syndrome and she volunteered to get a sense of where her child spent so many hours of the day.
She’s helped on the playground and in the classroom, and she and another parent started Popcorn Fridays to help raise funds for the school. The PTO also organizes the extremely popular Taste of El Sol, which helps bring the community into the school.
“There are endless opportunities for parents to be involved with their schools,” MacLeod said. “One should look at where their interests lie, i.e. gardening, reading, math tutoring, event organizing, and create an opportunity around those interests if one does not already exist.
“Talk to your principal, talk to your teachers, talk to other involved parents about needs the school has. Every school is different, though in my experience, there is lots of room for initiative.”
Parental involvement often evolves as children move from elementary school to middle school and high school. But while there may not be as many classroom opportunities to be involved, parents can still have a huge impact on a school environment.
“In general, there is lower (parental) involvement in the high school years, but there is still need. It just looks different than in middle/elementary school,” said Norrix Principal Chris Aguinaga. “We don’t need classroom helpers, we need helpers with all the extras that the school does. From chaperoning dances (Ms. May got 35 parents to chaperone our winter formal) to helping to fundraise, all can help.”
Sarah Willey, who has two children at Loy Norrix and one child at Maple Street, said that as a busy professional, she found it difficult to make time to be in the classroom when her children were in elementary school.
But at the middle school level, she found her niche as a parent volunteer.
“The involvement at the middle school level is less about being there because you want to see your kids and to be involved with the kids,” Willey said. “It’s more about saying to the staff, ‘What can we do support what’s going on there? What do you need from us that you’re not getting?’”
It can be a little daunting to make that shift as a parent organization, Willey said. The Maple PTO was struggling a bit to figure out its mission when her children first moved into middle school. After several years, the PTO has come up with three main goals: to create a more robust Facebook page for the school to improve communication with families; to raise funds to support activities such as field trips, new drinking fountains, and to buy snacks for the afterschool tutoring program; and to engage the school in community-related events such as the holiday coin drive to benefit Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes.
Whatever parents can make time to do can help schools and students thrive, principals say. And involved parents say it provides a unique way to tell children just how much they value school and the people working to provide their educational opportunities.
“It’s astounding how many great and amazing things that lots and lots of people are doing in the schools that you don’t know about unless you’re involved,” says Ford.
Cutline: Abigail Haughey and April Alexopoulos serve Loy Norrix student Annika Schnell while they man the concession stand at Loy Norrix High School. The two were working concessions to raise money for Grad Bash 2020.