Parent Volunteers in Schools
Parental involvement is vital to student success. While excellent schools and high quality teachers unquestionably contribute to student achievement, both factors are enhanced and supported when parents participate in their children's schooling. While many think of parental involvement as primarily academic, such as homework assistance, extracurricular volunteer opportunities provide parents with additional ways to participate actively in their children's education and the community. Research indicates that while parental involvement is strong in many areas, there remains room for growth. The onus often falls upon the teachers or school administrators to encourage parental participation in school activities
Keywords Community Involvement; Parent-Teacher Association (PTA); Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO); Parent Volunteers; Parental Involvement; Volunteerism; Watch DOGS
Service Learning: Parent Volunteers in Schools
According to the US Department of Education, parental involvement in students' education plays a key role in their academic success. Studies indicate that students whose parents actively participate in their education perform better than students whose parents remain uninvolved, and teacher-parent cooperation strengthens a child's overall educational experience (Parent Involvement, 2003).
Parental involvement is vital to student success. While excellent schools and high quality teachers unquestionably contribute to student achievement, both factors are enhanced and supported when parents participate in their children's schooling. While many think of parental involvement as primarily academic, such as homework assistance, extracurricular volunteer opportunities provide parents with additional ways to participate actively in their children's education and the community. Yet, even with the compelling evidence in favor of parental involvement, volunteerism among parents whose children attend public schools remains well below the 50% mark (Vaden-Kiernan & McManus, 2005, p. 10).
Forms of Parental Involvement
Catherine Hickman (1999) notes that numerous studies provide evidence of the strong relationship between parental involvement and student academic success. She indicates that as much as two-thirds of the difference in children's academic achievement may be qualified as home related. However, not all forms of parental involvement are equal. To help clarify the discussion, Hickman identifies seven forms of parental involvement, based on the combined work of several educational researchers. These seven forms are:
• Parents as communicators
• Parents as activities supporter
• Parents as learners
• Parents as advocates
• Parents as decision-makers
• Parents as volunteers/professionals
• Parents as home-teachers
In the communications role, parents interact with teachers and school administrators regarding the academic and social progress of their children. As activities supporters, parents attend school events and activities, showing support both for their children and for the school as a whole. Parent-learners may participate in parenting classes or other educational opportunities geared towards educating themselves regarding child development and parenting skills, among other things. Whereas advocacy among parents requires stepping into decision-making positions with regard to their children's education, decision-making involves participation or membership on school advisory committees, parent-teacher associations, or similar groups that play a role in school decision-making functions. As volunteers/professionals, parents may spend time in the classrooms as teachers' aides, either on a volunteer or on a paid basis, and parent home-teachers remain constantly involved in their children's education through home instruction, learning activities, or other home-based educational initiatives.
Rates of Parental Involvement
Just as the forms of parental involvement vary, so, too, do the rates of parental involvement. The US Department of Education reports that, among parents with children enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12, a full 95% indicate that they are involved in helping their children with homework. Among this same demographic, 85% of students live in households in which an adult checks to confirm that homework assignments have been accomplished (Vaden-Kiernan & McManus, 2005, p. 10). While these numbers are extremely encouraging, the percentages drop sharply when the criteria change from academic involvement via homework assistance to other participation via parent-teacher conferences, school meetings, or extracurricular volunteer activities. Among the same group, the percentage reporting volunteer involvement or service on a school committee stood at 40 percent for those who selected their child's public school and 38 percent for those for whom their child's school had been assigned. The numbers were higher for parents whose children attended a private school, whether parochial or non-parochial, and the percentages equaled 70 and 63, respectively (Vaden-Kiernan & McManus, 2005, p. 11).
According to Vaden-Kiernan and McManus, these numbers are insightful when viewed through the added lens of parent educational data. For example, parents who themselves had completed some level of higher education are more likely than those who have not to attend school meetings. The study showed that, of students whose parents had earned a college degree or attended graduate or professional school, 93% had parents who attended their children's school meetings. Of students whose parents had completed high school or its equivalent, 84% had parents who attended a meeting, and among students whose parents had completed less than a high school education, 70% was the rate of meeting attendance (Vaden-Kiernan & McManus, 2005, p. 11).
These numbers tell an interesting story about the state of parent educational volunteerism in America today. They indicate that, while parental involvement is strong in many areas, there remains room for growth. The onus often falls upon the teachers or school administrators to encourage parental participation in school activities. Unfortunately, this is an area that, according to John Wherry (2007), schools often overlook due to limited time and resources. Wherry notes that schools have become so focused on improving test scores and sustaining high quality educational programs that initiatives to establish parental involvement in school activities and events has often fallen by the wayside. Regrettably, the net effect of this threatens to be a decrease in the quality of the educational experiences of today's children. This is because parental involvement constitutes an irreplaceable pillar supporting the academic success and achievement of students.
Benefits of Parental Involvement
According to PTO Today, parental involvement in children's education yields multiple benefits, and among these are:
• Higher grades and test scores
• Improved social skills
• More positive outlook towards school
• Better behavior
• Increased likelihood to continue education
Furthermore, the younger the students are at the onset of their parents' involvement, the greater the benefits they reap. Parental involvement produces noticeable positive results at all levels of a child's education ("Involvement Matters," n.d.).
Given the documented benefits of parental involvement, schools are still faced with the challenges of how best to solicit parental enthusiasm for volunteer activities, how to involve parents who offer to volunteer, and how to retain parent volunteers once they are secured.
Recruiting Parent Volunteers
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