Help Children Outside of School

Educational success doesn’t rise and fall solely on the interaction between student and teacher, even if we’d like to dump the entire onus on the teacher.  Rather, as we so often hear, it takes a village.  The quality of education shows what we value as a society. It shows what we as a community put into the schools.  Most importantly, support from parents shows what they value. If only we could get all parents to do their part.

The biggest and best potential resource for helping students and schools comes at no cost to the taxpayer.  The resource is so obvious we often overlook it.  It goes by the name of parents.

Unfortunately, they are least involved where they are needed most.  That’s in disadvantaged schools.  Their absence is one of the stark differences between those schools and their more advantaged counterparts.

Worries Other Than Education

Disadvantaged schools are begging parents to be involved in any way.  It’s too much to hope they will participate in PTA-type meetings.  Teachers would be thrilled if parents would spend just 15 minutes each evening reading with their child.

This difference in parental activity is not peculiar to Arizona.  It turns up everywhere poverty is found.

The problem for Arizona is that we have more of that than most.  Just under one-quarter of the state’s kids are flat-out poor, according to data from the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.  Another quarter qualify as “low-income.”  That adds up to one-half the students in the state.

Too many parents are much more caught up in putting food on the table, sometimes failing to do even that, than in helping Johnny to read.

Filling The Void

In more and more cases, the larger community is trying to fill the void.

Many community organizations – service and civic groups, churches, and businesses – are pitching in however they can, providing financial aid and supplies to schools, food to needy families, and volunteer help.  In the best cases, principals use their assistance to help draw in parents.

What’s needed most is one-on-one help and encouragement.  That’s obviously labor intensive.

Needs Outstrip The Resources

Some individuals volunteer as tutors and mentors.  Some organizations seek to organize these efforts for a particular school.  Tucson’s Reading Seed program seeks to provide support across the entire city.  All of those efforts are wonderful, but meeting the entire need would take an army of volunteers.

The most effective way of taking up the slack is figuring out how to get parents to do what they should be doing in the first place.  Each additional parent who “signs up” represents a step in the right direction.

Education is widely regarded as the best avenue for escaping poverty, except poverty all too frequently prevents that from happening.  It’s a Catch-22 like no other.

The education of low-income kids would get a huge boost if their parent or parents – or whomever else their caregiver might be – would do more to help them along.  The very nature of poverty, however, inhibits many parents from helping in ways they should.

Their Struggles Become Their Kids’ Struggles

Low-income parents struggle for a variety of reasons.  One-third of them are new to the United States, according to the figures of the National Center for Children in Poverty.  Nearly half are single parents.  One quarter did not finish high school.  Nearly 20 percent are unemployed.

Their lack of support dooms their kids to the same discouraging prospects that beset them. This dismal situation will repeat itself, one generation to the next, unless we can interpose some change in the customary scheme of things.

We need to raise the stakes in getting parents involved.  The best solutions are undoubtedly voluntary and very local, but ultimately we can’t take no for an answer.  This may require that we work our way through a series of escalating steps to gain parent cooperation:

Entice Parents

Require schools to institute some formal effort to make themselves relevant to these parents.  Some educators have used school as a sort of community center.  One uses an empty classroom as a bargain basement.  Others have set up school programs that utilize the particular skills – e.g., farming – of parents.  Another principal pulls in parents with a series of special events in the evening.  If you have a program that works, please tell us about it here.

Train Parents

Underwrite a bilingual program that trains parents how to assist in their children’s education.  Perhaps this program is run by the schools.  Perhaps a non-profit supporter of education should step forward to create a parents league.

Obligate Parents

Require parents to participate in this program in order for their children to enter kindergarten, if not every grade.   Each parent who follows through on even a portion of the program constitutes a step forward.

. . . And As For The Rest Of Us

The volunteers and community organizations that work to fill the gap give even more truth to the truism that “schools make the communities; and communities make the schools.”

All of us need to look for ways we can make a difference.  Community organizations can be huge for schools, but the best of these partnerships don’t just happen.  Here’s a few tips to keep in mind.

We can heighten the effort by:

  • Creating a clearinghouse to match up the offers of help from community organizations with the needs of schools.
  • Sharing stories about successful partnerships so others can copy those techniques and programs.  If you’re part of a program that really works, please tell us about it here.
  • Creating a program to train mentors, with branches located around the state.  We adults are well-meaning and many of us want to help, but we are not teachers.  We need direction.


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"Every one of us must commit to taking action to support educators and students, even if we don’t have children in the school system, as well as making education our top priority when we vote." Expect More Arizona