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Busy parents can volunteer outside of school

November 09, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A child comes home from school and her parent asks, "How was school today, honey?"

No doubt that scene has been replayed countless times in homes across the Tri-State area.

But by altering that question just a bit, parents can get much more engaged in their child's education, said Joyce L. Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships.

Epstein suggested that parents get the conversation going by saying something more specific, such as, "Show me something you learned in math today."

While time is a precious commodity for parents and students these days, such exchanges are one quick way to make a meaningful connection.

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"Any parent can change the conversation from, 'How was school today?'" Epstein said.

Parents may think it takes too much time to get involved in their child's school. But Epstein and others said there are things that easily can be incorporated into a busy parent's day.

While some parent volunteers put in full days at the school helping teachers prepare for class projects, many tasks such as coloring or cutting out figures for bulletin boards can be done at home, said Marie Martin, parent involvement coordinator at Eastern Elementary School in Hagerstown.

"There's no reason someone can't sit in front of the television and do this," said Jolene McRae, the parent of second-grader Megan McRae. "Sometimes I take things home to collate."

As a result, McRae has a better sense of what Megan is learning.

Eastern Elementary is lucky to have a parent involvement room, complete with a copier, a die-cut machine and other supplies, Martin said.

Teachers who need help fill out a request form that goes into a job box. Parents choose tasks from the box.

If parents don't have time to come into the school, they can send a note to school with their child requesting the teacher send small jobs home.

By doing such things, parents can free up teachers to devote more time to lessons.

Schools are willing to work around parents' busy schedules, Martin said.

Even a half-hour spent working as a student's "reading buddy," helps, she said.

Epstein said schools need to do a good job of laying out the ways parents can get involved.

"It should not be up to parents to figure everything out on their own," she said.

Some teachers use e-mail to stay in touch with busy parents, said Carol Corwell-Martin, school improvement coordinator/Title I for Washington County Public Schools.

Everyone thinks of homework as the main bridge between school and home, Corwell-Martin said.

These days, educators are rethinking traditional pen-and-paper homework in favor of more interactive assignments that allow students to realize the practical applications of what they're learning, she said.

Parents can do the same thing by talking to their children about what they're learning. For example, if the child is learning about rocks, go outside and look at some together.

"Snatch those opportunities for really talking to your kids," Corwell-Martin said.

The Maryland Department of Education has a Web site to give parents ideas. Go to www.marylandpublicschools.org and click on the link for "Take 15 for the family."

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