tampabay.com

Schools pull out stops to pull parents into schools

By ELISABETH DYER
Published February 9, 2007


Get a whiff of this: bacon and eggs, grits and toast, at Middleton High School on Monday morning.

Hillsborough County schools are rolling out the red carpets for parents this month. Such invites are out from many schools for parents to join their child for breakfast - including a Sweetheart Breakfast at DeSoto Elementary School on Wednesday.

It's all part of an attempt to lure parents into schools.

Educators and researchers agree that kids with involved parents do better academically.

This makes sense.

Sounds doable.

But is it?

I, for one, am pretty busy these days.

That's true for many of us working parents, says Conchita Canty-Jones, coordinator of the district's Parent Education Center.

She's charged with overseeing the district's Visit Your Child in School Day, which is Monday or any day in February schools choose to recognize it.

She says some parents never come to school.

So their children miss out on opportunities. Such things as advice and even scholarships are there for the taking.

Parents who partner with teachers win, Canty-Jones says.

I've got to say, that's a compelling argument. We all want the best for our kids.

But the truth is, I can get a little nervous in schools. Not so much in elementary schools. When my kids were young, I was kindergarten class mom on Fridays, and my kids relished having me near. But when I signed up to chaperone my son's middle school field trip, he begged me not to come.

Now that he's in high school, I sometimes feel out of place.

Earlier this year, I picked up some fast food delicacies and ventured into the cafeteria to share lunch. In the cacophony of hundreds of voices and teens toting cartoon lunch boxes, I was conspicuously out of place.

Parents often feel that way, says Mary Cunningham, principal at Ballast Point Elementary.

"It can be very confusing to parents," she said. "Each school has its own culture, the lingo, acronyms."

Sometimes parents want to be involved, but worry that if they do too much they'll fit that new stereotype: the interfering, hovering "helicopter parent."

To welcome parents, Cunningham has made communicating a primary focus.

Every Wednesday, parents come for breakfast, one class at a time. Last week 86 parents, grandparents and siblings showed up. It's a chance to find out what's happening in their child's classroom. Cinnamon buns are a bonus.

At Just Elementary School, principal Tricia McManus finds that making a personal connection to parents requires dedication.

Every day several teachers walk home with their students to visit with parents.

"Really, we will do whatever it takes," she says.

Plant High School parents who want to volunteer can work in the guidance resource lab, doling out advice to students on how to fill out college applications.

At Middleton High School, parent volunteers help prepare for the FCAT. They'll also make the breakfast Monday that has for the past three years won them recognition for bringing in the most high school parents to Visit Your Child in School Day.