Voices from the Field
Sharon's Story: Engaging and Empowering Families
As a preschool teacher and parent education coordinator for Mt. Diablo Unified School District-Adult Education, I aim to provide meaningful ways for families and schools to connect, which bolsters children’s learning at home and in the classroom. In addition, I help transitional kindergarten teachers plan developmentally appropriate curriculum, bridging the Preschool Learning Foundations with the Kindergarten Standards. TK is a wonderful opportunity to cultivate parent involvement because it is the first introduction to the school system for many families.
Consistent outreach is essential to engaging with families. Every year the Adult Education department mails brochures about our parent education program to everyone living within the school district. During registration, I talk to parents about our volunteer opportunities and have them fill out all the necessary paper work so they can get involved in the classroom as soon as the school year begins.
|Tip: At registration, get volunteer paperwork squared away before day one of the school year by obtaining fingerprints, TB tests and other volunteer requirements that can take time to get results from.|
Parents in the Classroom
In the classroom, I encourage parents to share their cultures, interests and skills. For instance, one parent who works as a dietician brought in healthy foods to the class and talked to the kids about nutrition. The children looked through magazines and cut out pictures of healthy food and of foods that were not healthy and made posters. Parents were sent home with a hand-out of suggested healthy snacks. As a follow-up a Dentist came to visit the class and the children learned about "happy and sad" teeth.
Non-English speaking parents also make excellent classroom volunteers. Their presence in the classroom creates additional opportunities for children to develop skills in their home language as well as celebrates the diversity of home cultures. I have found that a warm smile, encouragement and demonstration of what is needed can overcome all potential barriers, including language. It really doesn’t matter whether you can speak the same language, most parents want the opportunity to volunteer in the classroom and help their child succeed in school.
Family engagement is most fruitful when parents are comfortable and familiar with their school site and the resources available to them. A personal invitation from a teacher to attend a family night goes a long way toward building partnerships and following up with them helps them know you really want them to attend. I’ve also found that parents are much more able to attend evening programs when their kids are welcome, so we design our events to include developmentally appropriate activities that parents and children can work through together.
|Tip: A personal invitation is the best way to ensure families feel welcome.|
For a recent family science night, we set up four classrooms with science experiments and gave parents support in engaging their child’s learning by guiding them through the experiments. One of the experiments involved building exploding volcanoes. Parents learned to use the vocabulary to explain the chemical reaction that is caused by mixing baking soda and vinegar, and both children and parents learned together that science is fun! Parents can then take the strategies they learned and use them at home.
|Tip: Bring snacks to share during evening events.|
Evening Classes & Speakers’ Bureau
The school district also offers talks by request, as well as evening classes, for parents. PTA’s, school sites or community organizations can call or email the Adult Education Department to request a speaker through our Speaker’s Bureau, which maintains a list of age-specific topics and speakers who are all credentialed Adult Education and K-12 teachers paid by Adult Education.
Each talk is considered an individual parenting class that the parents register for. One of our most requested topics is “Discipline and Limit Setting.” Currently, about 10 speakers visit different schools each month.
As every educator knows, families have diverse needs and circumstances. Family engagement is most effective when families have several avenues to gain new tools to foster their children’s success in school. And to truly empower families to support their children, it is essential to provide them opportunities for learning as well as build on the tremendous assets that each family brings to their child’s experience and growth.
Sharon Reposa has worked for Mt. Diablo Adult Education for over 22 years doing what she’s passionate about – teaching preschool and teaching parents, and has been the Parent Education Coordinator since 2000. She often says she loves teaching children because at heart she is really 3 years old! She is fortunate to love her job and feels lucky to be paid for doing something she is passionate about.