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'Allies in Education'

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As I visit schools across America, the family-school partnerships I've seen in action have convinced me that there are many ways to engage parents and families as partners in the education of our children.

In Las Vegas, I observed parents running a publishing center where students publish their own writings and illustrations. In Green Bay, Wis., parents and grandparents regularly tutor students who need extra help during the school day and after school.

Recently, in Honolulu, I saw grandparents from many countries sharing their culture, arts, and history with their grandchildren in the classroom. The list could go on and on, and, in all of these cases, one thing is certain: To have effective schools, we need involved families and strong family-school partnerships.

One significant way for schools to insure vigorous family involvement is to establish "resource centers" for parents and families.

Family-resource centers can range in size from a single room within a school to separate locations that serve several schools. The latter are often (but not exclusively) found in the large Chapter 1 projects.

Large or small, the common element is a comfortable space set aside for parents, where they can come and go and know they're always welcome.

Family-resource centers have several advantages. They draw parents inside the schools regularly, in addition to open houses and parent-teacher conferences.

Once inside, parents can share their school and parenting experiences with other parents, work more closely with teachers and staff, and join in school activities. In many schools, resource centers are also used for meetings, tutoring, G.E.D. classes, and family-literacy activities.

To get the center started, schools should first draw on a group of already-involved parents, such as members of the P.T.A. To make it work, parents must be enthusiastic about the center and feel a sense of ownership.

Then, find a permanent space and fill it with comfortable chairs and good lighting. Provide coffee and snacks, books, and educational toys for younger children.

The center should be staffed, by either a paid employee or dedicated parent volunteers. Work with the parents in your community to figure out the most appropriate hours of operation.

Establish a schedule of regular activities, such as tutoring and parenting classes, and distribute flyers or brochures describing them. Once parents become familiar with the center and aware of its activities, they'll be more likely to drop in.

Finally, the center will need funding--even just a small amount. Soliciting donations of furniture and the like from parents and the community is one place to start. Mount a fund-raising campaign or seek a small grant. Your school may be eligible to use a portion of its funds from local, state, or federal sources.

By providing space and activities for parents in the school, educators can help parents become partners--allies in education working side by side with teachers and administrators.

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