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Home-School-Community Partnerships
by Linda Madison

It probably comes as no surprise that research supports the widely held belief that the educational success of a child is very dependent on the family. In fact, the National Education Goals have been edited to include a goal emphasizing parental participation. Goal 8 states the following.

By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.

Home-school-community partnerships can be fostered in a variety of ways. For a creative teacher the community can be a rich source of expertise, financial support, and volunteer services.

Partnerships can be developed with community organizations, individual families, and local businesses or corporations. The resulting partnerships can serve the school with support and services, and the school can serve the community by providing an educated population of students who are mathematically and scientifically literate.

Family-Involvement Programs

Family-involvement programs are an effective way to facilitate partnerships between the home and the school. Programs developed by school personnel can provide a forum for parents and children to experience learning in an atmosphere quite different from the usual classroom setting. Locations for the interaction might include the school library, cafeteria, or multi-purpose room. Evening programs may take place outside the school in other community buildings.

One such program originated at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, and Portland State University, Oregon. The program is called Family Science and has been adapted for implementation on the East Coast by the Consortium for Educational Equity, at Rutgers University. The purpose of Family Science is to reach out to those groups that have historically been underrepresented in math, science, and technology.

Children and parents are encouraged to participate in a series of evening activities during which they explore science ideas. During the exploration, teachers take on the role of facilitator and encourage the families to look at familiar things in a different way. Families are encouraged to discover something again, for the first time. The science does not have to be high-tech or complicated. The equipment should not be sophisticated. The goal is to demystify science, to promote the notion that everyone is a scientist and everyone can do science.

The content of the session should take a back seat to the promotion of the process skills.

Observation, measurement, prediction, experimentation, data collection and interpretation, classification, and so on are lifelong skills that can be useful in many different contexts. Use of everyday materials will encourage families to continue their journey through the discovery process at home. Parents will soon see that their attitudes toward science have changed, and this change will ultimately impact the attitudes of their children. Children will benefit from seeing their parents enjoying the problem-solving process. Sharing a fun-filled learning experience with their parents sends a subliminal message to children that we are all lifelong learners and that learning can be fun.

Community Involvement

Community support is an outgrowth of family-involvement programs. Community awareness fosters a positive belief about the school and the effectiveness of the teachers. The positive community attitude toward education often manifests itself in ways that are very important to the school community, such as the passing of school budgets, win-win negotiations of teacher contracts, and the public's feeling of pride in the municipality.

Communication between the school and the community is critical to a successful relationship, as is the case in any relationship. In today's highly technological world, communication should be relatively easy to facilitate but is sometimes neglected. Some schools have set up voice-mail systems on which there is a way for parents to access school information. The information may include notices of school programs, homework hotline information, or PTA news. Usually there is a way to leave messages for individual teachers as well.

Another way for the community to work closely with the school is through community volunteers. When we provide a way for non-school personnel to come into the classroom, we give parents the opportunity to recognize and respond to the problems that the classroom teacher faces everyday. With increased understanding comes mutual respect. Parents are given the opportunity to volunteer their time working with students who can make significant gains when given a little more individual attention. Parents see how they can make a difference in the classroom by helping the teacher as an additional facilitator of learning.

Parents who volunteer should participate in an orientation session designed to outline the role of parents in the classroom. Various options can be explored, and parents can choose how they feel they can best help. Suggestions range from working behind the scenes, shopping for and packaging materials that may be used in a science or math class, to working with individual students on reading skills, word recognition, or editing of writing assignments.

Everyone Benefits

Home-school-community partnerships come in a variety of styles. Such partnerships build understanding of the education process and are beneficial to the students we serve. There is an African proverb that states that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Partnerships allow the whole village to help educate our children.

Linda Madison is Science/Math Supervisor for Grades K-8 in the Flemington-Raritan School District in NJ.
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