As October and December roll around, the School Board receives very detailed reports on the state of our schools and the achievement levels of our students. The information is conveyed in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Report and now on the new California School Dashboard website. The staff uses this data, as well as other measures, to determine the effectiveness of programs and to guide decisions about the allocation of future resources. We see good progress on some measures like our high-school graduation rates, but we realize we have more work to do in other areas. I am confident in our future and the many dedicated professionals who strive to improve teaching practices and provide additional support for our struggling learners.
In his recent column in the Ukiah Daily Journal, Bryan Barrett, Principal of Pomolita Middle School, rightfully praised the professionalism and dedication of our teaching staff. He described the lengths to which they go to help their students be successful. Educating children is an obligation which I and my colleagues undertook with both joy and fervor. Early in our careers, we discovered that we could not be successful without the help and support of parents and the community. Education is the most important task before us as a community, and the decisions we make regarding how children spend their time should be driven by that belief.
This journey begins long before children come to school. Providing early reading and language experiences are crucial to later success in school. This was recently documented extensively in the book “Too Many Children Left Behind” by Jane Waldfogel. Excessive screen time and few adult/child interactions create deficits that are hard to overcome, even as early as Kindergarten. Although our schools provide multiple intervention programs, some children still struggle to read at grade level.
The Ukiah Unified Board of Trustees are aware of the important role parents play in their child’s success. Ukiah Unified has funded programs to teach parents specific strategies for helping their children. The concept of parents as partners has been studied by many groups and the conclusions and recommendations are very similar. The most recurrent themes are as follows:
• Parents must create an environment in which school success is valued, encouraged and expected. Extensive research demonstrates that parental expectations should be high but not unreasonable. The key is convincing your child that he/she can be successful.
• Parents need to talk to their children about school. Discuss the school climate as well as the academic program. Some studies claim that such discussions are more effective than helping with homework.
• Maintain open dialogues with teachers. Attending parent conferences, open houses and other school events conveys the idea that you value and appreciate the efforts of school personnel in educating your child.
• Encourage and model positive feelings about learning and success in school. Share your successes and failures in school and discuss how you handled those situations. Building children’s ability to manage setbacks and overcome failures increases their resiliency.
• Continue to read to and with your children throughout the elementary years. The reading skills children are taught in the early years are crucial. However, parents can provide additional motivation through shared reading and discussions about a book. Reading a book that is beyond your child’s reading level enriches their vocabulary and increases their ability to access more interesting text. Reading, like any other activity, becomes more enjoyable when we increase our competence.
What can parents do? Here are some New Year’s suggestions to start 2019
• Read, Read, Read to and with your child
• Buy a book of science or art activities and choose one activity each week
• Visit the library regularly
• Start a book exchange with your child’s friends
• Give books as gifts on birthdays
• Encourage children to write
• Discuss books during car rides, at dinner, or while cooking
• Have older siblings read to your younger ones
• Set up a cozy reading nook
• Monitor your child’s TV, Internet, phone, and video game usage. (Read “It’s a Book” by Lane Smith, a hilarious exchange about a book versus a tablet)
The partnerships between schools, teachers, parents and the community are critical to a child’s academic success. We encourage you to engage your child in the activities mentioned in this article. Help your children prepare themselves for their future and they just might thank you some day. I still remember the day I drove up to our house and our sixteen-year-old casually said, “Mom, thanks for not letting me watch television all the time.” Years later she sent a birthday card to her father. In it she thanked him for instilling in her his love of books. That is the power of parenting.