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SCHOOLS COLUMN: Helping parents become teaching partners

There was a time, notes Doug Spangler, when parents dropped off their kids at school, and it was the teacher’s job to teach them, then give them back.

“Now we’re more interested in making it a partnership,” says Spangler,
parent education program developer for West Contra Costa Adult Education.

A compelling reason is that research has shown that the more involved parents are in their children’s education, the more successful children are in school.

“The overwhelming number of parents want their child to do well in school,” he says. “But the great majority doesn’t necessarily know how to help them in today’s school system.”

It is the charge of parent education classes to bridge that gap.

Parent education classes traditionally have focused on basic parenting skills. But, Spangler says, we’re discovering that to help children be as successful as possible, parents need to do a broad range of things, such as make sure their child has a quiet place to do homework, help them with specific skills such as math or reading, make sure they are well fed, and get a good night sleep.

“In many cases the whole family dynamics have to change.”

Family involvement reaches beyond the home as well, with parents not only volunteering in the classroom and going on field trips, but joining in the discussion of curriculum through groups such as school site councils.

Just as the concept of parent involvement has changed, so too has the idea of what parent education should look like.

“My definition of parent education is the very broadest,” says Spangler.

One lesson Spangler has learned is that adult education can be much more effective when his department works in cooperation with a school.

“In the past we’d come up with a great class, and only a handful of people show up.”

School staffs have more contact with students and their families, so they have a better idea of their needs and interests. The school can also help get the word out to parents about classes being offered.

The afternoon I spoke with Spangler, he was headed out later that evening for a family math program at Fairmont Elementary School, followed by a workshop at El Cerrito High aimed at single and stepparents.

The school’s own staff is often the first place Spangler looks for people to teach the adult education classes, though he also has a pool of teachers with a variety of specialties that he can draw on.

Spangler is also interested in working with groups such as preschools that aren’t run by the school district.

Classes are offered at no cost to parents or to any school or group he might work with because the state funds parent education. He is not limited to a set list of classes but can work with the school or group to develop a class to meet the needs of its families. One course his department is offering will allow family members to improve their computer skills so that they can better help their children.

Spangler said he’d like schools to see adult education as a co-partner.

“You can’t ignore the parent side and have children succeed in the way we are expecting them to succeed.”

Spangler can be reached through West Contra Costa Adult Education at 559-2660, extension 205, or by email at dspangler@wccusd.k12.ca.us .

Betty King Buginas is a teacher in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and a former city editor of the West County Times.

Run dates: 2002-05-17 - 2002-05-31

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