The Poor Man’s Guide to Family Engagement in Our Schools

Guest post by Patrick Arguelles

Doing more with less

Virtually every school district in the nation is dealing with budget reductions. For most school leaders, there is little unjustified spending to cut, no easy targets, no low-hanging fruit. At the Early College Academy and Career Enrichment Center in Albuquerque, NM, we have examined our vision and mission and aligned budget expenditures to them. Challenged with sustaining the core function of our school—college and career readiness—yet also making budget reductions that could affect the educational experience necessary for student success, we stepped outside the box to scrutinize our options. Initial conversations were filled with lots of “less”—less materials and supplies, less technology, less PD, less electives, even less pay. What could we have more of that would not cost us any money?

It takes a village

George Soros wrote that “it is much easier to put existing resources to better use than to develop resources where they do not exist.” So, what resource did we already have that we needed to put to better use? Parents. Research shows that family involvement can improve students’ behavior, attendance, and achievement. And according to the National PTA, “The most accurate predictors of student achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family creates a home environment that encourages high yet reasonable expectations for the child’s achievement and becomes involved in the child’s education at school.” Research also indicates that students from broken homes have equal or greater success on test scores than peers when screened for parental involvement.

We knew our school’s high achievement—measured by standardized test scores, dual credit hours completed, certifications earned—was directly tied to relationships we had cultivated with parents. Our experience working with students and their families has shown us the importance of parental involvement. Though a number of factors contribute to our data, our push to involve parents and families has led to better attendance, decreased dropouts, better grades, and higher ACT and SAT scores. Students whose parents are involved have a more positive attitude toward academics and homework. And the most significant revelation from school data over the last five years is that 100 percent of our African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students have graduated on time. In fact, parental involvement supersedes any demographic factors identified in the data.

Parent partnerships are not hard work but heart work

Though teenagers may say something different, they absolutely want to interact with their parents. Moreover, all parents, regardless of their economic status or ethnicity, want to be involved in their student’s academic lives, but many just don’t know how.

To help parents become partners in their child’s education, we spend time (rather than money) to educate them on how to provide the right support. We require that all parents and guardians of ninth-grade or new-to-school students attend a meeting with a team of administrators and teachers—a student cannot start school until we meet. Gathering all parents together in one room sends a message that student academic success is our number one focus and they bear a responsibility to make it a priority as well.

We discuss expectations for both students and parents and make it clear in every step of the process, from initial application to the start of school, that the positive collaboration between student, parent, and school is vital to academic success. We show parents how to navigate the complexities of high school and what they can do to help their child. One of the resources that we give parents is the “Collaborating for Success” Parent Engagement Toolkit.

Keep calm and get involved

Our most effective strategies for welcoming family involvement include:

  • Contacting families on a regular basis via phone, text, e-mail, Twitter or other social media, and posting information online
  • Providing workshops or holding meetings for parents devoted to specific aspects of high school life
  • Teaching parents how to monitor student academic progress daily
  • Engaging them in the process of college and career readiness

Parents and families are asked to talk regularly with their student; work with their student to set goals and develop college and career next-step plans each year; and monitor student progress daily.

In a nutshell

The hardest part of the process is coordinating the initial meeting. Everything falls in place after that and we spend less time on discipline issues and other typical concerns. We work hard to understand the community we serve and it pays off. We also keep track of research-based, data-driven strategies that work and share them with all stakeholders.

And the best part of all: The process requires little financial outlay and the return on investment is huge!

So, help a poor man out: What have you done to promote family engagement in your school that was an effective use of limited resources? How does a district superintendent leverage increased parental involvement against the many other demands being placed on site leaders?

Patrick Arguelles, the 2017 New Mexico Principal of the Year, is in his fifth year as principal of the Early College Academy and Career Enrichment Center in Albuquerque, NM, and his 16th year in education. An additional 18 years of management in the private sector has given him invaluable experience and the skill set necessary to partner with all stakeholders—students, teachers, parents, and the community—to prepare students for college and career, and to provide all students with an enriching and challenging education.

1 Comment

  • O'Brion Kim says:

    Hi Pat – what a fabulous post! So important to have patental involvement but not easy to do.
    Really like the mtg for 9th grade or new stu’s that all stu’s & parents must attend b/f stu’s can start school.
    And the outreach to parents to help them be involved! Maybe they don’t realize how critical their involvement is. Or maybe the just don’t know how to do it. Worth a try.
    I really enjoyed your ideas.

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