Involving parents in meaningful ways

Securing and maintaining active parent involvement is a top priority in education. Peter Ernest Haiman, who designed and wrote the Parent Involvement Performance Standards for the National Head Start Program, reports, however, that only a small proportion of schools and agencies have successful parent involvement programs.

In his experience, administrators of successful programs assess parents’ interests and then make sure these are met or nurtured by the program. Low-income parents, in particular, who rarely have a sense of personal control over their lives, need to develop a sense of ownership to be successfully integrated into a program.

Research demonstrates that when adults initiate and regularly participate in designing program activities, they stay involved. Their involvement must benefit the adults themselves as well as aid people they want to help and/or further a cause in which they believe. A sense of personal ownership leads to involvement, and rewarding and personally meaningful experiences sustain it.

Haiman also believes that helping parents build a sense of community should be an important goal of parent programs. Hiring leaders from the community contributes both to parent involvement and to a sense of community. Local leaders can best communicate the goals of the programs to the parents. They are also sensitive to and can effectively communicate parents’ problems or concerns to staff. Parents’ helping to design program activities ensures that the activities will address parents’ own concerns and interests while meeting the needs of their children. Some professionals who fear sharing control with parents either hand-pick or limit the number of parent representatives on committees. But when professionals control the committees, Haiman states, parents will not feel ownership of the program.

“To Be Successful, Community Programs Must Involve Parents in a Meaningful Way ,” The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, Volume 14, Number 3, March 1998, p.1, 5,6.

Published in ERN May/June 1998 Volume 11 Number 5

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