National PTA rep says involved parents equals successful kids
Published 9:36 am Friday, January 30, 2015
What do deciphering text message abbreviations, coming up with slogans and leading cheers have in common?
These were some of the fun-filled activities local Parent Teacher Association members took part in Thursday evening as they learned new ways to engage parents and community members with their local school.
PTA members from across the northeast Tennessee region attended the state PTA Winter Conference held Thursday evening at Towne Acres Elementary School in Johnson City.
The focus of this year’s winter conference was family engagement and featured a presentation by Sherri Wilson, senior manager of the National PTA’s Family and Community Engagement Program.
“My first involvement with PTA was when my children were in elementary school,” Wilson said, adding she served as the chapter president. “I stayed a member even after my term ended.”
Her involvement in PTA inspired her to encourage others to become involved in their children’s education. She got a job working with a Parent Information and Resource Center, which helped support parents and provide important education information to them.
Eventually, Wilson went on to found her own non-profit organization doing similar work with families. Her agency was asked to work with the state PTA organization in Alabama and Wilson found herself once again in a PTA setting. Wilson served on the state PTA Board in Alabama for four years. Then, about four years ago, she took a staff position with the National PTA.
“The work that I do now with the National PTA is similar to what I did as a PIRC director,” Wilson said. “I feel like it is the most important work I have ever done.”
Keeping parents and families engaged in their child’s education is essential to the child’s success, Wilson said.
“Research has shown us that what families do at home with their kids is what makes the biggest impact on how their children learn in school,” Wilson said.
It is important that schools and teachers reach out to the families of their students to help encourage them to get involved, she said.
“Unfortunately, teachers don’t get course work in parent engagement,” Wilson said.
Having an active PTA organization helps bridge the gap between families and the school by encouraging other parents to get involved and by presenting the parents’ voice to the school, she said.
One of the things that makes the largest impact in getting parents involved, Wilson said, it to make sure the school environment is inviting and welcoming.
“The first thing parents should see when they walk up to the door is a big sign that says ‘Welcome, we’re glad you’re here,” she said, adding if more than one language is present in the community, then the sign should be written in all of the community’s languages. “If there are five languages in that community,” she said, “there should be five signs.”
But having parents welcome at the school building is not enough, Wilson said.
“Not only should the parents be welcome in the school, but they should be welcome to be a part of their child’s learning,” she said.
While every school will engage parents in a different way, Wilson said the important thing is to make sure the parents are involved and to encourage those who aren’t to take part.
“Every community is different. Every local school is different,” she said. “There is no silver bullet that works on family engagement in every community.”
“You really have to have boots on the ground to engage the families and build a relationship between them and the school,” she added.
After Wilson’s presentation, she divided the conference attendees into three teams and had them complete a series of activities designed to help them think outside the box to develop ways to encourage parent involvement. Participants had to decipher messages written in text message abbreviations, figure out what several acronyms stand for, come up with a slogan, write and perform a cheer, list people in the community to partner with and a variety of other activities.
As the participants moved around the room engaged in the various activities, many could be heard laughing and talking with their counterparts from other schools and discussing how they could implement the things they were learning to get more people involved in their own schools.