By Sharonica Nelson, Ed.D.
Once students reach middle school, parents often become less engaged with their child’s academic environment. They don’t walk them in the school’s doors anymore, they don’t communicate as often with teachers, and they are less like to visit the school unless there is a special program or sporting event after hours. This is especially true for African American parents.
As a former classroom teacher in an urban, predominantly Black school, I have first-hand knowledge of this. During middle school, school becomes more or less a mystery to parents. However, under Every Student Succeeds Act, there is a push for parents to be more involved with academic environment of their child.
Studies show that when parents are more actively involved in their child’s schools, the child tends to perform better academically. Therefore, parental engagement is an important concept of discussion in terms of African American children’s performance.
Although parental engagement has a strong correlation to student academic performance and achievement, why is it that African American parents appear disproportionately less engaged than parents of other races?
Studies have shown that there are many factors that may hinder Black parents from being active in their child’s schooling. Factors include lacking confidence when speaking to education professionals or fear of seeming incompetent, being the sole provider in the household with work hours that conflict with school hours, and not knowing how to approach school officials with proper questions specific to individual child concerns.
These and many other nuisances keep Black parents from approaching schools to be more active in their child’s academic career. Nevertheless, for the sake of maximum student success and potential, it is important that parents are actively engaged in their child’s schooling.
It is imperative that Black parents are not only involved but also engaged in their child’s schools. Parents must not only be involved through participating in school-planned functions, but they must also create their own spaces and opportunities for active engagement to demystify student performance. There are many ways to do so, which include:
Use school system provided platforms to keep up with grades. The school system may provide this service for free, and it may be associated with a special code or password for log in. Parents should check with the school secretary for information on this. Frequently checking student grades and holding them accountable for their grades can send strong messages to students in terms of performance.
Know when reports cards are due. School systems may send home a calendar with this information, they may provide automated calls as a reminder, and the dates may be readily accessible on the school system website. It is ultimately up to the parents to stay abreast of report cards and not wait until the last grading quarter to show concern over grades. It’s too late then.
Email teachers. Email is a quick form of communication that most people use directly from their phones. Most teachers use emails frequently. Make use of this to maintain constant contact and communication with your child’s teacher. Most teachers prefer to hear from parents with concerns of student progress and would happily engage to inform parents concerning their children.
Check teacher webpages. Many teachers have webpages that they frequently update with pertinent information pertaining to their classroom. This information may include due dates, skills and concepts to be covered, and materials needed for upcoming projects and assignments.
Create a parent network. Many parents may not have the time or resources to be involved with the formal PTA (Parent Teacher Association). They may decide to create social media groups that keep all parents abreast of current happenings within the school. This could be a simple, easy way to connect to other parents of students within same educational setting for accurate, current information concerning the child’s school.
Regardless, of the age or grade of a parent’s child, parents have a right to know about the current happenings of the classroom and school. However, the school and parent relationship shouldn’t be one-sided with school doing all the work in terms of providing the opportunities for parents to become engaged. Parents must understand the importance of their involvement in their child’s educational trajectory, take the reins, and create their opportunities for being actively involved.
Although, middle school is the time when most parents become less engaged in the child’s school, it should be a time when parents maintain engagement. To demystify further, parent involvement weighs heavily on children’s performance. And simply put, children need to see parents in their academic spaces for better performance, even in middle school and beyond.