Teachers, help me out.
November 26, 2015 7:14 PM   Subscribe

Teachers who have taught at schools in poor areas and in well to do areas, can you please tell me what difference parent involvement at the school makes. Not talking about what happens at home between parent and child, but rather trying to gauge the impact parents who volunteer at the school have.

I personally help in my kids' elementary school library, the lunch room and in the work room where copying, laminating and cutting jobs are done.

I'm part of the PTA. We have a local "sister school" that we do fund drives for, like for shoes, coats, toys, that kind of thing. I was thinking of organizing a group of volunteers to actually go to the school once or twice a month to do those support functions mentioned above. I know that school doesn't even have a PTA this year because of lack of parent involvement. Would this even be beneficial??

Secondarily, does parent presence at school help their kid socially? Maybe less likely to be bullied if other kids know your mom?
Thanks for your input!!
posted by wwartorff to Education (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As a school librarian, competent, consistent volunteers make a huge difference in schools that don't have a library aide/assistant on staff. School librarians do about fifteen different jobs, and being able to outsource some of the tedious stuff - attaching bar codes, covering books, writing call number labels - is a huge deal.

(I do, however, want to emphasize competent and consistent. If I have to train a new person every time, and then they help for two hours, that's worse than nothing. If I can train someone once, or train several people at once, and then get help a few hours a week, that's amazing.)

The social help thing seems deeply unlikely to me, but I work in a middle school; ymmv with grade school kids. I still doubt it though. If anything it might work in the other direction.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:12 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have worked at both types of schools and parent support is huge. I mean it is honestly a night and day difference. I went from one school were 0 kids turned in homework and I bought kids snacks on my dime, to a school were if I need something I can use the classroom budget or ask our PTO who helps organize fundraising.

I would concur with goodbye waffles that the type of support is important though. I would put copying and laminating down near the bottom of the list, although that kind of help is nice. Fundraising for teacher grants, making sure kids eat breakfast, reading out loud to individual students or even just pulling students for one on one time could potentially be better*. Honestly I would just ask at that school because I'm sure the teachers could tell you what would be the most helpful if you gave them a list of things you could do.

And yes, this help is AWESOME. And the fact that you have a sister school is super cool. I think you want to find a nice balance between support that one school needs and the type of support that volunteers are willing to give along with some small tangible results that will make volunteers happy and fulfilled enough that they return.

*I say potentially, cause sometimes it isn't you know? When teachers have to organize it too much it can be a pain. Or if you just go once a month maybe it is better to make bulletin boards?
*I'm gonna say fundraising for Teacher Grants again because I might still be paying off a credit card that bought way to many school supplies back when I had no budget and no supplies. Feel free to ignore if necessary.
posted by aetg at 8:30 PM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think having involved and motivated parents is wonderful and all-around positive for schools! I think it's great that you're looking to reach out to have more parents help at your sister school. As great as parental involvement is, it's also not the be-all, end-all way for student success. There are so many socio-economic and cultural factors at play that a few hours of wealthy parents volunteering each month is NOT going to change things. It certainly can and will help but it won't be a panacea either; honestly, the best solution would likely be merging the two schools so there is greater equity. (I know it's not going to happen nor is it your responsibility to try but I wanted to give this perspective, too.)

I think you've done a really good job of expressing your interest in helping the more socially disadvantaged school while also respecting boundaries. It's important to remember that the parents at that school likely love and care about their children just as much as the parents of the more privileged students at your child's school BUT don't have the same resources: they likely are struggling to make ends meet and do not have the time off, perhaps they don't feel confident in what they have to offer or aren't comfortable in a school setting or maybe they don't speak much or any English. (I teach at a unique public school that has students at both ends of the spectrum, which makes for a good mix but reveals some stark contrasts.)

I'd recommend contacting the administration at that school and asking if they could connect you with any parents interested in getting more involved and help them organize. Say, if the school has a large percentage of Spanish-speakers, maybe there is a Spanish-speaking liaison who could help contact and organize parents. You could then help them set up their own PTA (or even a loose volunteer organization) and eventually work together as equals. Alternatively, maybe the two schools could form a club where a group of students from each school meet to do activities together once a month: if done "right," the exposure to different backgrounds could be really beneficial to students from both schools. I think your intentions are awesome and could have great results with a good plan. I'd just try to see it more as working together as parents from different schools rather than strangers who occasionally come by. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:03 PM on November 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Don't be surprised if there isn't a lot to do. Schools with lots of parental help have over the years outsourced a lot of functions to them. A competently-run school without good parental support will have retained those functions in its paid staff, and will have a principal who hasn't needed to, and won't necessarily want to, engage in the sort of diplomacy and strategy which is needed to make parent volunteers useful and happy. (Remember that when a rich school and a poor school are in the same district, the poor school will usually be significantly better funded on a per student basis given Title I and analogous state programs.)
posted by MattD at 4:38 AM on November 27, 2015

There's an underlying fallacy in your question. It assumes that all parents are equally able to participate in schools and that poor parents simply aren't interested enough to do it.

I taught in an urban high school in Florida. We suffered from over-crowding, impoverished community, single-parent households, 90%+ of the kids on free breakfast and lunch. You name it. My kids needed to solve 12 problems before getting on the bus for school.

The reason kids do better in schools where parents volunteer isn't just because the parents are in the school, it's because the parents have the financial means to BE in the school.

How many of the parents of my students completed school themselves? How many of my students were in the foster care system, or in a half-way house based on criminal activity, how many were being cared for by family members other than parents? A lot.

If your job is such that you don't get paid if you don't show up to work, then as much as you want to be in your kid's class, you can't afford it. If you have younger children at home and no one to look after them, you can't be in your older kid's classroom.

Another thing is that so many parents of poor kids have bad associations with school. They may not have finished school, and they feel inferior, especially when interacting with educators. They fear being exposed by kids as not knowing enough to be there. Schools are also mandated reporters, so it's possible that the parent has been reported to CPS, by the school, for neglect or abuse (rightly or wrongly) and for that reason, many folks would rather not even be there.

There also may be the attitude that during school hours their kid is YOUR job, not theirs.

I am sure that having extra folks volunteering at your school's 'sister-school' would be beneficial, an extra pair of hands is always welcome. But you must realize that this is a socioeconomic issue, and not simply, "poor people don't care enough."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:39 AM on November 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

I've worked in lower-income schools in Mattapan/Boston Public and I live (and I've worked) in one of the top rated public school districts in Massachusetts.

Kids may do better in schools where parents volunteer but that's only because the ability to volunteer implies a parent doesn't NEED to work. Therefore, they have the financial ability to provide for their kids across the board in ALL THE WAYS a financially struggling parent can't.

Parents in the school want to be helpful and raise money and be active in their kids' classes, but more often than not, teachers wish they weren't there. Yes, we could use the money for supplies and stuff but nowadays lots of stores like Target have 5% donation programs which gets schools extras without having all those moms in the way. Unfortunately, most parent volunteers are in our way and we want them to leave.

For every parent who is helping shelve books in the library, there are five volunteers who are taking up teacher's time with questions about their kid and curriculum and their opinions and pretty often, they want to gossip about the kids and their families. They want to know confidential information and I CANNOT TELL YOU HOW MANY TIMES teachers overhear them in the hallways talking about children. Or they just need to pop into their own kid's class to check in and say hello to their kid, which disrupts the class. Or they spend time in the classroom just to cherry-pick playdates and try to configure their kid's social status.

So many parent volunteers think that by virtue of hanging out at a school they have somehow gleaned the same education and set of skills that teachers have. They feel it critical to tell teachers how to do their jobs and admins how to run schools. But teachers have advanced degrees, we go to countless hours of professional development about disabilities and methods of teaching and child development but more importantly, we've been hired to do the work. So many parents just don't get that.

More often than not, staff doesn't really want parents in the school. It can become a status thing between the moms about who's there the most and who raises the most money by those terrible wrapping paper or frozen cookie dough fundraisers but when all is said and done, they just get in the way of teaching and the (truthfully horrible) remark parents will never hear teachers say in the teachers lounge is that we wish our mommies would go get real jobs and let us do ours without their interference.

And as far as the social piece, the truth is that kids act differently in front of their parents. How parents see their kid in school is NOT the same kid teachers see as soon as that parent leaves. And that's a good thing. They navigate the world differently without their parents around and they are often a little wilder and brasher and more obnoxious. Teachers know as soon as a parent walks in, kids shut down a bit.

In Mattapan, there were no volunteers because our parents had jobs. Our school was well-stocked because Apple and Dell and Google all fall over themselves to give city schools lots of gadgets and iPads and toys.

What makes a real difference is the kind of home the kids go home to. Do people read or does the TV go on the second the kid walks in and doesn't go off until bedtime?

Does the family sit together nightly and have a meal or even a cup of tea before the parent goes off to work where everyone shares their day? Does the family have at least one weekly sit down meal weekly? Is there an expectation that school is the priority and fun happens after homework?

Those are factors that matter, not whether a kid's mom is in the school volunteering.
posted by kinetic at 5:50 AM on November 27, 2015 [15 favorites]

(I recognize that my answer focuses on moms only. In my 20+ years of teaching, I have never once seen a dad volunteer in any school. Once a dad offered to buy our school a math and engineering library but other than that, it has only been mommies.)
posted by kinetic at 5:58 AM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work in a poor school in Boston, and we don't have the gadgets that kinetic wrote about at the school where they work. Donations like that are never shared fairly across the city. MattD's assertion that poor don't need help because they have the paid staff to do the work is also not a reality at my school. We have many, many different groups of volunteers that help out at my school, and the ones that have been most effective are the ones who work with us to identify a need, and then help us to meet that need. Examples of this are- we have a business partner that does a back to school supply drive for us each summer- we get supplies for both children and the school from this drive and it helps us save our supply budget for other items. We have a church group that has sent volunteers to help in classrooms for years, and those volunteers have found teachers that they gel with, and help those teachers out a lot with a variety of tasks that the individual teacher decides is important in their class. I am the library coordinator, and I have had groups do book drives for me for take home books for our students, I have a high school group that raises my total book buying budget, and I have one of the aforementioned church volunteers who covers my books for me- we have a setup where she takes them home and does them there and brings them back to me- it's win win for us both. We have had volunteer groups help out on days of work (MLK weekend is a huge one) where we have had painting and other projects done that never seem to get done by the district.

I would also point out that many groups love to help out with our youngest students, but our biggest need for help in terms of donations are for our older students. For example, we always have clothes to give out to our neediest students- we collect both new and used clothing in good condition, and there is always a need for bigger sizes. Our best volunteer groups pre-sort donated clothes by size and sex.

In terms of parent presence in the school, I agree with other posters about how sometimes they make more work than they are helpful. Bossy parents who only care about their kids can be a nightmare in a class. At my school we see a lot of positive parent involvement when it comes to assemblies and classroom events- parents always turn out to see their kids, and always show up with huge amounts of food for classroom events. That is the sort of involvement that means the most to the kids, everything else is gravy.
posted by momochan at 6:10 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am a teacher in a low income school, and I would LOVE if a consistent, well-trained group of volunteers came every week or every month to do things like cutting, laminating, and putting up bulletin boards. I have a family member who does this for me but most of the teachers at my school do not have this kind of help.

The key is CONSISTENT and WELL-TRAINED, as well as volunteers who are willing to do long, mundane, thankless jobs. Does anyone really love cutting out a million laminated flashcards? No, but it needs to be done, and teachers have way more important things to do, like, you know... teach children :)

To be honest, I do have a parent of one of my students who volunteers regularly, and like some posters upthread said, it is actually more distracting/annoying than it is worth, because she wants to talk to me about her child while I am trying to teach, and her kid acts differently when she is around, and she wants to gossip about other students/families, and it is just generally awkward and frustrating when she is hovering in my classroom and I'm just trying to teach! So I would actually love NON-parent volunteers.
posted by raspberrE at 2:12 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ruthless Bunny, no where in my question did I state or assume WHY any parent at any school is able or unable to volunteer. I am very aware of households where both parents HAVE TO work, or there's a single parent situation. I only stated the reality in this case, which is there is no PTA at our sister school. My phrase "lack of parent involvement" is simply factual, not judgmental in any way.

kinetic, you'll be happy to know that our school has a program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of great students), and a lot of dads are pretty involved via that channel.

Thanks everyone for the feedback! We will definitely be working with the family liaison and other staff to determine what an occasional group of volunteers could accomplish.
posted by wwartorff at 4:55 PM on November 27, 2015

My son's grade school was (and continues to be) the most commended, highly rated school in our district and one of the top in the state. It is run by a rock star principal who credits the fact that it has always enjoyed the highest rate of parent involvement in the district.
posted by txmon at 6:02 AM on November 28, 2015

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