In January 2010, Project Interaction looked at the parent and community practices of Barrett Elementary from the perspective of the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships
The six PTA standards offer a framework for how families and schools should work together to support student success. They were updated based on the most recent review of the research by Henderson & Mapp (2002) that confirm the finding that there is a positive and convincing relationship between family involvement and student success, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education. Below is a description of the ways in which Barrett is working to achieve specific goals under each of these standards.
Standard 1: Welcoming All Families into the School Community
K.W. Barrett Elementary has long recognized that its efforts to improve student achievement require the enlisting of the entire school community. Towards this end, it initiated Project Interaction in 1995, a school-wide initiative that supports its instructional program by focusing attention on strengthening family involvement. Because of the diversity of the Barrett community, one of its goals is to contribute to Building a Welcoming and Inclusive Learning Community. Key practices include:
Creating learning activities for students and families that recognize and increase understanding of the school racial, cultural and language diversity. For example, each year Project Interaction staff and parent volunteers create a heritage take-home activity and school-wide mural that includes every student and organize family library nights attended by an average of 77 families highlighting cultures represented in the school.
Creating volunteer options that tap into different segments of our diverse community. Project Interaction facilitates a Friday Volunteers program that brings together Latino immigrant parents regularly to help the staff while building connections with other parents and getting immersed in school. About 15-20 Latino moms attend every Friday.
Building connections with new families to help them become engaged in school. The PTA runs a Barrett Buddies program which pairs incoming families with current Barrett families who can help to get them connected and with questions and ideas for getting involved.
Providing family supports and addressing obstacles for participation in school activities. The PTA includes English-speaking and Spanish-speaking co-chairs to encourage a diverse leadership. Project Interaction provides translation during meetings, liaison between English and Spanish speaking parents, and coaching for immigrant parent leaders. The PTA purchased simultaneous translation equipment to facilitate communication. It also increased funds for childcare during all parent workshops. The PTA coordinates an after school enrichment program and solicits and offers student scholarships to make sure children from low income families can participate in these activities.
Creating a family-friendly atmosphere. Other practices include hiring front office staff who can communicate with families in Spanish and Amharic and maintaining bulletin boards throughout the building with photos and products of student and family learning activities.
Standard 2: Communicating Effectively
Barrett has adopted a number of strategies for achieving the result of Engaging Families and Staff in Meaningful Communication about Children’s Learning. The leadership for this goal begins at the top, with the commitment of our principal to the values of transparency, participation, and accessibility. Principal Terry Bratt greets the students each morning at the front doors of the school, is always available by telephone, email or in person, attends all school functions, and sets the tone for the Barrett community. Her leadership clearly influences other school staff to do the same.
Given the language and economic differences, the school and PTA use multiple means to communicate to ensure all families are informed about important issues and events. Barrett offers a wealth of information online, including regular blogs by teachers, an e-newsletter posted weekly that offers school-wide information, and WebPages and list-servs for individual classes and the entire Barrett community.
Because many families don’t have computers, information is also sent home to all families through the Friday Folders, which compile recent work done by the children as well as announcements from the staff, information about upcoming events, and updates from teachers about the work their classes completed in the last week. All flyers and key information are produced in English and Spanish, including over 200 teachers comments on student report cards 4 times a year. Translation in several languages is available upon request for parent/teacher conferences and staff makes sure to ask parents in advance if they need it.
The school provides regular updates to parents about school events and resources. A bilingual Family Calendar is disseminated each semester to all Barrett families that includes an integrated list of activities for the entire school. It also offers informational presentations on topics important for families, such as transitioning to middle school and summer camps for children.
Parent surveys are conducted regularly to guide the development of parent involvement programs. The most recent survey in December 2009 sought feedback on Barrett’s Kindergarten Days, which provide an opportunity for parents to know what their children are expected to learn and do class observations. 60% of K parents attended this year. All respondents (66%) identified at least one useful thing they learned and a good idea they got to practice with their children as a result of their participation.
Standard 3: Supporting Student Success
The goal we want to highlight here is Supporting Learning by Involving Families, which is at the heart of many of Project Interaction family involvement strategies. Our practices in this area are grounded on research that has consistently shown that when schools engage families in ways that are linked to improving student learning, students make greater gains. Barrett’s program works to:
Help families understand what students are doing in the classroom and strengthen their ability to reinforce the learning at home. As noted above, Barrett offers K-Days and Pre-K Days which have been very positively evaluated by parents and impact about 100 students every year. Another example is our yearly Family Math Night that provides parents with strategies and materials to use at home. Average attendance ranges between 70 and 90 families representing all backgrounds and grade levels.
Develop and communicate expectation for how parents and teachers will collaborate to support student learning. In September, Barrett disseminates a bilingual School-Family Compact that lists 10 key actions that families and teachers will take as partners. Both parents and teachers must sign the compact each year. The compact also serves as an educational tool to clarify expectations about involvement and actions parents can take to support learning.
Create opportunities for families to support learning at school. An example is our new Roving Readers Program that brings parents, grandparents and community members from different backgrounds into the classrooms as guest readers to share favorite stories that help combat cultural, racial and gender stereotypes and develop positive self-esteem. A cadre of 25 readers was trained and they did 60 classroom visits. Informal feedback from students, teachers and parents is very positive so far.
Provide additional learning and enrichment opportunities for teachers, students and their families. Examples are the Family Library Nights mentioned earlier which average 77 students and their families from diverse backgrounds. Barrett’s Kitchen Math Exchanges, featured as an innovative practice in Beyond the Bake Sale (2007) consist of visits by teachers to the homes of their second language learners to strengthen connections and learn more about their students’ cultures and home environments. As mentioned above, the PTA runs an after-school enrichment program taking measures for making it accessible to low-income families.
Standard 4: Speaking Up for Every Child
This is an area where Barrett excels thanks to the efforts of Project Interaction, which in 1998 began developing a series of parent workshops for Helping Parents Understand how the School System Works and Strenthening their Capacity to Support and Advocate for their Children's Education. The driving force was an early recognition about the need to provide learning opportunities in this area for Latino parents, who constituted the majority, so they too could be empowered.
The workshops have been packaged into a very interactive curriculum called PARTICIPA that seeks to increase participants’ knowledge about the school system; deepen their understanding about their roles, rights and responsibilities; develop their confidence and ability to ask questions and be advocates; and strengthen relationships for mutual support and to improve education.
Barrett PTA supports participation by providing the needed childcare. PARTICIPA is now offered in partnership with Escuela Bolivia, a community based organization, and includes also parents from other schools in the county. 61 families have completed the series in the past 3 years and obtained certificates of achievement in very moving ceremonies that include their children, the School Superintendent and other school leaders.
Evaluation surveys consistently show that PARTICIPA has been successful in achieving its desired results. All respondents say they acquired new knowledge and useful ideas and give concrete examples. Over two thirds say they are doing something differently as a result and provide examples. Moreover, several graduates have assumed active roles in the PTA, other Barrett programs, such as the Room Parents and Roving Readers programs, and in system-wide advisory committees. Recognizing this impact, the central office is translating the curriculum into English to offer PARTICIPA to other immigrant English speaking communities in the county.
A separate practice under this goal is the opportunity to mobilize in response to school district political developments. The PTA keeps families apprised of new proposals such as redistricting possibilities and budget cuts and encourages parent participation to respond to these proposals providing contact information for key policy-makers, drafting sample letters, and creating bilingual petitions that express the views of our community. The most recent petition gathered 103 hard copy and 215 electronic signatures from a diverse group of parents.
Standard 5: Sharing Power
Barrett makes special efforts for Making Sure Families Have a Voice in Shared Decision-making. For example, APS recently gave the families and community the opportunity to participate in a survey and in community consultations about the school budget for 2010-2011. APS translated the survey into Spanish after the Latino community requested it, but the survey could be completed only online. In order to ensure that diverse family voices could add their input, Barrett provided access to the computers in the library for the Friday volunteers and Project Interaction staff assisted them in the use of the computers.
The Barrett PTA makes sure to inform families about important issues or proposed changes at its monthly meetings, online, and if necessary, and sending with students on the Friday Folders background materials for parents in English and Spanish on issues of concern to the community. The PTA reaches out to parents with diverse backgrounds to serve as Vice-Presidents and play a role as liaisons to their communities in order to bring the information to other groups such as the Friday Volunteers and to get their input. Project Interaction provides staff support and coaching to these leaders.
The Principal has an advisory group of parents that every year reviews and gives feedback on the school management plan and she makes sure to have minority parents in that group. Through PARTICIPA, Latino parents have an additional opportunity to look at and understand the school data on student achievement broken down by race and ethnicity. This year the Barrett faculty is participating an a cultural competence professional development course where they have an opportunity to discuss in large and small the achievement gap data, investigate its causes and identify best practices they can use to close the gap.
The PTA has worked hard to connect our school community to local officials by inviting County School Board Members and the Schools Superintendent to PTA meetings to hear from parents. PARTICIPA regularly invites school and community leaders as guest speakers and to celebrate the culmination of the course with Latino parents.
Standard 6: Collaborating with Community
To meet the goal of Connecting the School with Community Resources Barrett has primarily focused on recruiting and building partnerships with community groups to support student success and strengthen families.
Barrett has a strong commitment to promoting math and science curriculum for all of its students. In 1990, the school launched Project Discovery, which seeks to positively impact students’ attitudes and knowledge about science. The project focuses on highly-engaging, inquiry-based science learning experiences and engages in partnerships with a diverse group of institutions such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Lockheed Martin, the US Geological Service Center, and the Virginia Living Museum to provide speakers and on-line presentations for students, lend exhibits, and offer student fieldtrips and professional development opportunities. As an Alumni NASA Explorer School, Barrett staff works with NASA education specialist, mathematicians, engineers, and scientists to incorporate innovative strategies, resources and technology tools into math and science instruction.
The school has long established partnerships with the Arlington Unitarian Universalist Church and the American Association of University Women, Arlington Branch, who contribute their time regularly as tutors of a Book Buddies program that provides one-on-one literacy skill-building support to students and also help with our Reading is Fundamental distributions of free books to all the students. A partnership with the Crystal City Hyatt Regency provides a Career Day for fifth grade students as well as in-kind donations.
Trinity Community Services support the counseling program with funds that are used for emergency needs for families, our Peer Mediation program and the students 4H Club. The school also opens its facilities in the evenings for use by local community groups such as Escuela Bolivia, a school partner that offers ESL classes for parents in the evenings.
This look into Barrett Elementary family involvement practices and activities from the perspective of the National Standards shows that the school has built a strong partnership with families to support student learning. Parents can be involved in the school in many ways and the school as well as the PTA are working hard to ensure there is participation from the diverse groups represented in the school. Barrett is excelling in its level of practice in several of the standards. It has powerful strategies in place for linking families to what students are learning in meaningful ways, for supporting the diversity of families in the school, and for building the capacity of parents as advocates. One area in which further work is needed is in developing performance measures to track the effectiveness of the various activities. These kind of measures have been identified so far for the PARTICIPA program, but they need to be identified and consistently track for reporting and for making improvements of the various programs.