Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Powerful Parental Participation

If you google Margaret Meade's famous quote about not underestimating the power of a small group to change the world, you learn that either (a) she said it about 14,519 different times and used different wording each time, or (b) the quote has such rallying power for small groups trying to do good work, that folklore has morphed it into a fluid description of the 80/20 rule we all see in our working lives: most of the work is done by a small group of people.

Henry's Home and School Association feels like a Meade illustration in action. At the group's meeting last week, we got a report of its activities this school year. An abbreviated list of accomplishments includes:

  • Worked with the school to garner $350,000 from the district's Campus Parks program to redesign the upper school yard. The project, currently slated for demolition/construction in Summer 2006, will level the slope, install plantings and benches, and make the area a much more inviting and user-friendly space.
  • Worked with the Community Design Collaborative, a group of Architects working to improve public spaces, to explore ways of improving the lunchroom. The lunchroom is really a multi-purpose room, a combination gym/lunchroom that works better as a gym than a soothing place for midday repast. The lunchroom has been a concern and complaint of parents, so the results of the CDC input should be a big help.
  • Served as the spearhead and point of contact for staff from organizations like the Morris Arboretum, Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and school neighbors with real expertise who want to help improve the school environment.
  • Provided support - like breakfasts and snacks - to the students during the testing periods for the PSSA and Terra Nova tests. Apparently, the research shows that sugar (or at least a decent breakfast) actually does help kids in testing.
  • Coordinated volunteers from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which brings retired neighborhood residents into the school, weekly, to do one-on-one tutoring with students referred by their classroom teachers.
  • Produced 2 fundraisers that netted about $20,000, which H&S basically "grants" to the school for needed items that aren't in the school budget, for example: instruments for the music program, a new laminator for the teachers, test prep books to help students and families prepare for the PSSA and Terra Nova tests, and field trip fees for students whose families can't pay the nominal costs.

One mother involved in H&S worked with the music teacher and Principal to write a proposal to a local foundation, resulting in a planning grant for the music program. That grant came through this year, and as part of the planning project, every family received a questionnaire about music and performing arts. Survey results went into the just-submitted proposal to the same foundation for a multi-year project to integrate music into the core curriculum, with a musician-in-residence working with classroom teachers. We should hear from the foundation in June.

Yes, a small group of folks work on these big accomplishments. At last week's meeting, 10 parents, representing Henry's diverse community, attended, along with the Principal. As a snapshot of parental involvement, attendance is not quite overwhelming. On the other hand, this was the night before the annual spring concert, there really weren't any critical items on the agenda, and the level of parental-participation goes way beyond meeting attendance. For example:

  • There's a father who's a prof at a local university who, for the past two years, has arranged for student teachers throughout the school. This cuts in half the student-to-adult ratio in many classrooms. In my son's class, the 22 kids enjoyed a 11:1 ratio most of the year.
  • There's a mother who coordinates the recycling project for used printer cartridges and cell phones, raising more funds for H&S to provide the school.
  • There are the many parents who go along on field trips to the Zoo, Kimmel Center, Art Museum, and so many other great educational and cultural venues throughout the area.
  • There are the parents working with the students on the annual school play: the producer/director who was recently in the Production department at the Philadelphia Opera Company, and more recently in one of the company's operas (OK, she was at the meeting); the musicians and sound technician.
  • The parents who volunteered to run, and just plane help out at the book fairs/fundraisers, candy/stuff fundraisers.
  • The parents and grandparents - someone just about everyday - who go into the classrooms to talk to students about their careers, teach science lessons, read to kindergarten, and teach students how to play Chess.

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