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On the first day of school, as your child checks out her classmates, you should do the same with the other parents. Smile and make an effort to introduce yourself. Networking with other parents is one of the most important ways you can help ensure your child's success in school.
What does it mean to form a parent network? It's neither as awkward as trying to become friends with virtual strangers nor as easy as getting a list of names and phone numbers to post on your refrigerator door.
Rather, forming a network means that you decide to come together as a group of people with many diverse skills, talents, and interests who are united by a common interest — improving your children's education. It also means that you find ways to stay in touch and work toward bringing about change.
What are the benefits of creating a parent network?
- You can use the network as a support group. Raising children is often stressful and isolating; knowing that you can vent and share your feelings with other people who are facing the same issues can be very comforting and affirming.
- You can compare notes with other parents. Suppose your child starts complaining that her teacher doesn't explain assignments well; to get a valuable reality check, you can call up other families and find out if their children are experiencing the same problem.
- You can create a powerful advocacy group to lobby for policy changes. School administrators can put off a single parent requesting that a teacher be removed from the classroom or that class size be reduced, but they would be ill advised to ignore a well-organized group of parents who have taken the time to articulate their requests.
- Your children will feel better about school. Research has shown that children do best when they know that the important adults in their lives are all working together.
How can I create a parent network?
Here are some tips from Sue Ferguson, chairman of the National Coalition for Parent Involvement:
Research the possibilities. Your school may already be linked to a parent network, such as a PTA or PTO (Parent-Teacher Association/Organization). If not, find out how your child's school can sponsor a local chapter of such an organization.
Join the PTA. Local PTAs and PTOs are open to all interested parents. If your child doesn't bring home information about how to join:
- Contact your child's school and ask to be put in touch with the president of your local unit or the school's PTA teacher liaison.
- If your school can't provide PTA contacts, call your state's PTA office or the National PTA membership department at (800) 307-4782.
- For detailed information and numbers for state PTAs, visit the National PTA Web site.
Take an active role in contacting other parents. You can begin by asking your child's teacher for the name of the class mom or dad; that person should have a list of names and phone numbers of all the parents in the class. If not, ask the teacher if she can give you such a list. If you've had trouble getting in touch with other parents or can't get numbers from the teacher, try taking your child to school for a couple of days. That way, you'll meet other parents who drop off their children at school, and together you can begin to generate a list of names. You can also ask the teacher to send a note home with the students explaining that you are organizing a phone list and need their numbers.
One caution: Before you distribute a list of phone numbers to all the other parents, call everyone to make sure they want to be included on the list.
Visit the school when you can. Go to school plays, field days, assemblies, concerts, and sports events. Volunteer to chaperone class trips. This is a great way to meet other parents and get to know them in a relaxed, natural setting.
Set up a parent center. If your child's school doesn't have one, arrange one. A parent center is a place where parents can meet to discuss concerns, hold casual get-togethers, share resources, plan events, and pick up information, such as minutes from PTA meetings. Some parent centers are in the school — in a corner of the main office or in a spare room. If the school can't accommodate the center, then explore whether you can establish one at the local library or community center.
Stay active in the community. You'll naturally meet and get to know other parents by visiting your local library, church or synagogue, arts council, neighborhood playgrounds, athletic fields, and pool, and by attending community events such as fairs, block parties, and parades. Use these encounters to invite parents to meetings and share phone numbers.
Contact your state's Parent Information Resource Center. PIRCs provide in-depth resources for parents about staying involved in schools, working with other parents, and many other areas of interest. To find the center in your state, visit the PIRC Web site.