News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 19, 2014

Forum: Parents must be involved with schools

TERRE HAUTE — Students whose parents are involved in their school and activities have fewer behavioral problems, better academic success and are more likely to complete high school, studies show.

How to encourage greater parental involvement was the topic of a forum hosted Wednesday by the Indiana Youth Institute. About 30 youth workers, volunteers, college students and school personnel attended the Youth Worker Cafe at Gibault Services Inc.

To get more parental participation, “there has to be a very welcoming environment and an encouraging, positive approach to parents,” said Elizabeth Malone, an IYI consultant and retired social worker.

Initially, it’s important to establish a connection, which could occur through an open house, home visit, family bingo or ice cream social. Then, parents should be given a number of opportunities, based on their comfort levels and abilities — including options that don’t require them to go to the classroom.

“I think parents want to get involved, but if they don’t have any experience with it, if their parents didn’t do it or it’s not common in their community, they might not even think to do it,” Malone said. “That’s why it really has to be offered.”

Youth workers can then help parents build on their strengths and identify their talents and skills; some parents may emerge as leaders.

Malone also explored reasons why parents might be reluctant to get involved: previous negative experiences, fear of failure, fear of blame or an unwelcoming environment, such as a rude receptionist.

Parents may fear authority figures. They also might not have done well in school and anticipate their children won’t do well, either.

The primary motivation for parents to become involved appears to be a belief their actions will improve their children’s learning and well being, she said.

And, they tend to be more involved if they perceive the staff and children being served both want and expect their involvement.

“How do we make sure parents know they are needed, know they are welcome and know how important their participation is,” Malone said.

She told those attending, “Don’t assume that because parents have never [been involved] before, they can’t or wouldn’t want an opportunity to do so.”

Parents generally are doing the best they can, even those whose parenting skills are not very good. “All parents have hopes and dreams for their kids,” she said.   

A key step to greater involvement may be  helping people improve their ability to parent or helping them feel better about their capacity to be a good parent. “That can take a lot of little steps to build their confidence … because no one wants to go out every day and fail,” Malone said.

Other community partners for the event were the Children’s Bureau and Cummins Behavioral Health Systems.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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