How can parents engage for quality schools in their own neighborhoods?
The results of the Open Choice round of student assignment are finally in, and most families are heading into summer secure in their school communities or in their new placements. Its typical, however, to hear from several parents concerned with their assignments. An email last week read:
"So...... I am starting to think maybe I need to work on supporting my local neighborhood school (Emerson). The age old question is, how can an individual make a difference...."
Many families, faced with a difficult placement, choose to flee (to private schools, new communities, neighboring districts or Option Schools) rather than to fight when the neighborhood school doesn't feel comfortable. Nevertheless, our local schools need our investment.
In an occasional series, CPPS will highlight the stories of those fighters who dig in with their community schools. For these folks, parent engagement means getting to know and working to improve our neighborhood schools, and the investment can start even before the student does.
Jen and Graham Ayers began engaging in Hawthorne elementary last year, and in response to the emailer above, shared these words of investment:
"I'm personally thrilled to hear that you are wanting to get involved with your neighborhood school.
(We) started getting involved at Hawthorne two years ago when our son was 3 (He starts kindergarten there in September). Like you, we wanted to get involved. We had heard many negative stories about the school and decided we needed to experience it firsthand. We just walked into the school and asked the front desk person how to volunteer. By working in the classroom a couple hours every Wednesday morning...we got to experience the school, teacher, kids, instruction, feel, energy first hand. The school welcomed us with open arms. But I think what was important is that we kept showing up. I think the teacher thought we'd come for a week or two to check things out and then not show up again.... Consistent efforts helped develop a strong, open relationship with the teacher, office head and the school principal.
We have found that it is very important to forge relationships by offering your time and energies and assistance in the ways the school could best use you.....because we forged positive relationships with people there...we learned a lot about the inner workings of the school AND were able to offer oour own input about what kind of school culture, programming and curriculum was valuable to us.
From there we helped spread the "real" word about Hawthorne on neighborhood online groups, at social gatherings etc. We also started a Google group for folks to share info about Hawthorne. We held potlucks for Hawthorne-referenced families so folks could learn more about the school and each other. This past year we helped out with the school's first ever auction. It was an amazing event that raised almost $40,000 for the school.
Working in the classroom isn't the only way to help/get involved (although if you can find a way to contribute ANY kind of time volunteering weekly during school hours, I think it's one of the best ways to show your support and commitment, as well as get a lot back (firsthand knowledge/experience). I don't know if Emerson has a PTA or Parent Group, but find out if they do (again, just walk into the school office, introduce yourself and ask), and attend meetings. Attending social events is also a good thing to do. Hawthorne has Multi-cultural night events and Math Nights and other performances that are open to the public.
I personally believe that the best way to help lift up our schools (especially in SE Seattle), is for us to get involved, develop relationships, work together and send our kids! Building a positive community around the school is key."
That's the kind of investment that makes a difference for our schools. Hopefully, we'll see more of it!