The Importance of Parent Engagement

Beyond traditional volunteer roles, schools can engage parents in ensuring that their students are college ready and knowledgeable about the college application process…

Written By dwalker

On June 4, 2013

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An important part of building a college-going culture in schools is engaging parents in helping their students imagine a larger future for themselves, one that is not limited by economic status or parents’ level of education.  Starting with the assumption that all parents want what is best for their children school leaders can invite parents to help nurture students’ aspirations.  This is a key factor in the research on college readiness: that students need to be surrounded by peers and adults who hold college as a goal. (See IES Practice Guide: Helping Students Navigate the Path to College: What High Schools Can Do ) Examples include helping parents talk to their students about the importance of college, knowing how to use an individual learning/college preparation plan to check course selection and identify interests, and also practical tips like how to set up a place for studying in the home.  This kind of parent engagement diparent-engagementffers from typical patterns of having parents volunteer in the attendance office, organize and judge at science fairs or school fundraisers, or work concessions at sporting events.  By focusing parent efforts on their own students, they are more likely to be engaged, especially when their student’s future is at stake.
High expectations or aspirations for college are critical but not the entire picture.  Parents who are not college graduates themselves and who may face economic limitations need to know what kinds of resources are available to support college-going.  GEAR UP, a federal initiative aimed at preparing low income, first generation college goers for higher education and solid careers, has parent engagement as a priority focus.  Through parent workshops, engagement in the statewide institute organized by GEAR UP Kentucky, and the FAST program (Families and Schools Together) organized by Berea College GEAR UP, parents receive guidance on the college application process, financial assistance, and what courses their students should take in high school.  In particular FAST brings together parents and students to talk about school issues and increase mutual understanding.  These kinds of parent engagement strategies increase the likelihood that students will be successful in middle and high school and graduate prepared for college and career.  If school leaders view parents as partners and involve them in efforts focused on college readiness, they and the families they work with will benefit.
A third and important aspect of parent engagement is asking parents what they need and responding accordingly.  As a parent of a high school student, I receive bulletins and newsletters advising me what the school needs, what my daughter is supposed to do, requests for contributions and volunteer tasks, but rarely am I asked what I need from the school so that I feel engaged and confident that my child will be successful.  School leaders can make a significant impact on parent engagement by hearing from parents in both large and small settings, face-to-face and virtually, what parents need to ensure that they are supporting their children’s success in school.
Here are a few additional resources on parent engagement: