Going back to school isn't just a challenge for students; parents have a lot of work to do as well.
Beverly Raimondo spent 22 years training parents through the Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership to make a difference in student achievement in their schools.
The parent leadership institute has been called "the flagship program in the nation," by Anne Henderson, senior consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.
Raimondo, who just retired, said she thinks parents need to take on the responsibility of being involved in their children's educations.
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She said parents should begin by figuring out who the main players are in their children's schools — the principals, guidance counselors and teachers — and finding out their expectations for students.
Parents also should make their own expectations clear. For example, if parents are determined that their children should go to college and need college-track courses, teachers should be made aware of that, she said.
The commonwealth institute, which has trained 1,690 parents across the state since it was launched by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in 1997, also encourages parents to initiate their own projects to increase academic achievement at their children's schools.
"It's as important as knowing they're clothed and fed and safe," she said.
That means volunteering for committees, attending school council meetings and looking up the school's progress report on the Kentucky Department of Education website. Be sure to make an appointment for a parent-teacher conference within the first two months of school, Raimondo said, and don't accept platitudes.
"You don't want to know if your child is nice. Let the teacher know your long-term expectations for your child."
Then, Raimondo said, ask what you as a parent can do to help make that happen.
While parents should be proactive, she said, there's no need to be antagonistic or confrontational.
"You don't want to go in blaming and being nasty," she said.
Involved parents do not limit their efforts to the progress of their own children but look for ways to help other students as well, she said.
That can include programs to tutor or mentor particular groups of children within the school as well as helping less involved parents who are bewildered by school bureaucracy. Informed parents can befriend befuddled parents, helping them to frame their questions for teachers or even offering to accompany them to parent-teacher conferences, Raimondo said.
Opportunities for parents to make a difference can vary. Raimondo said that one parent in Lexington started an after-school program for at-risk students to cook dinner.
Getting parents interested in their school is pretty easy in the early grades. But in high school, rebellious teenagers seeking to assert their individuality might push back from having their parents hanging around school.
Even then, parents have to stay focused, Raimondo said: "You are always the parent. You just have to persevere."
The Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership, provided free to selected parents, takes place during three two-day sessions and includes training about Kentucky's school system, achievement data and ways parents can work with administrators and teachers to boost students' academic performance.
More information: Prichardcommittee.org/our-initiatives/cipl or (859) 233-9849.