Parent advocacy and a successful school year

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 10:58 AM

Students all over Durham and across the Triangle are finally back in school. 

Most parents breathe a sigh of relief that summer is over, but school time also brings a new set of concerns and parenting challenges.  Schools today are more complicated places than when many parents were in school themselves.  Testing, school choice, new common core standards and even the many resources available can make schools more difficult for busy parents to navigate.

Since 2005, Durham County Cooperative Extension has offered parents a six-week series of interactive workshops designed to help parents manage the complexities of schools today, build positive relationships with school personnel and help their child succeed.  Parent & Family Advocacy and Support Training (PFAST) in English and Latino PFAST (LPFAST) in Spanish are for any parent in a public school, prekindergarten through grade 12. 

The training addresses hot topics for parents — school choice, communication, common core and state standards, testing, high school requirements, services for children with disabilities, programming for the academically gifted and more.  PFAST helps parents understand how schools work and how they can be the best advocate for their child when things are going well and when they have concerns.  Nearly 95 percent of the families who complete the training have increased confidence, competence and knowledge in working with their schools and building productive partnerships with school staff. 

Starting Sept. 24, Durham Cooperative Extension will offer PFAST in partnership with the newly formed Durham Public Schools Family Academy.  The DPS Family Academy is working with community organizations like Cooperative Extension to offer a variety of free opportunities for training, information and support to families to improve school performance, learn about health and nutrition and boost family success with courses in areas like finance and goal-setting.  

In addition to PFAST, Cooperative Extension is offering courses on financial management, grandparents raising grandchildren, gardening and nutrition through the Academy.  Courses will be offered at school sites throughout Durham County.  PFAST is offered at the Holton Career and Resource Center with dinner and childcare for the six-week series.  Participants receive a notebook full of key tips and resources and can earn a certificate.

For those who cannot wait for the PFAST series to begin, here are five proven tips to help support school success at the beginning of this school year:

-- Meet your child’s teacher or teachers as soon as possible at school events or through a parent-teacher conference.  Building a parent-teacher relationship is helpful for all parents, but it is particularly important if your child had a difficult school year the previous year or has other challenges.  Parents do not need to wait until the end of the first nine weeks grading period to request a conference.

-- Monitor your child’s work.  Look for school progress reports every three weeks.  Talk to your child’s teacher right away if there are concerns.  This school year, parents will have an additional opportunity to see their child’s progress in real time through a new online system being implemented statewide.  Home Base and the student information portal, PowerSchool, will offer parents current information about their child’s grades, attendance, and performance.  To use PowerSchool, parents will need to get an access password from their child’s school. 

-- Learn all you can about the personnel at your child’s school in addition to the teacher.  Invest your time and get to know the school secretary, the guidance counselor, the principal and others who are a part of your child’s school community.

-- Get a handle on homework early on.  Help your child with homework by setting up a structure for homework — a location in your home with few distractions and with supplies as well as a schedule for homework time.  Help your child, especially middle and high school students, learn to manage their time.  Communicate any questions or concerns about homework with the teacher.

-- Shift your child (and you) from summer mode to school mode.  Adults as well as kids often find it hard to let go of summer fun and make the switch to the school year.  It is important to adjust bedtimes (even for teens), activities and attitudes to fit with the demands of the school schedule.  Help your child get ready for the school day the night before and plan time for school work when needed on the weekends.

These tips, while simple, focus on core strategies that promote school success and should help you get the school year started on the right foot.  Please contact Durham County Cooperative Extension and join the upcoming PFAST training to learn more to help your family and child have the best school year and school career possible.

Donna Rewalt is  community outreach coordinator with Durham County Cooperative Extension.