By Jeff Wickard, MS
Growing up on a family farm without many friends nearby was difficult for me as a child. I always wanted to go across the yard and play with other kids but, unfortunately, we had cows for neighbors. Thus, the feeling of isolation from my friends was tough; but, I had my parents there to keep me company and help me, especially with my school work. Little did I know how invaluable their interest in my education would be!
Throughout my 23 years of working with children and parents, first in the Child Welfare System and then the school system through the Laurel Life Transition Program, I have observed how parental involvement in a child’s education can be significantly beneficial. Children’s trauma, behaviors of concern, feelings of safety and security, understanding of consequences, and emotional stability all improve with parental involvement and cooperation with their educational services.
For example, research has found that students with parents that are involved in their learning, at least somewhat, are more likely to achieve higher grades and test scores (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). They also are more likely to have better attendance in school, positive social skills, appropriate behaviors, and are better able to adapt to changes in their school routines. Further, these improvements are demonstrated regardless of the families’ income or backgrounds. Likewise, parental involvement also appears to enhance children’s development and improvement of self-discipline, a crucial component to learning and school success (Gonzalez-DeHass, 2019).
I have been fortunate enough to witness these results firsthand with many children through the Transition Program. Developed in 2010, the Transition Program seeks to encourage and involve parents as much as possible, so students can see teamwork between their educators and caretakers. This allows for the students to respond more appropriately to directions and supports, both at school and home. From there, drastic improvements can be fostered in the areas of academic achievement, behavior, attendance, social skills, and mental health.
Academically, students’ test scores and grades demonstrate significant improvement. Their ability to understand the material and complete their work appears to be enhanced through increased parental involvement and cooperation with the school. Further, the parents benefit from increased communication and collaboration with the school and program.
Behaviorally, we in the Transition Program have seen tremendous improvement, both at school and in the students’ homes. Improvements in appropriate behaviors and decreases in inappropriate behaviors occur due to parent and school staff communication, collaboration on different behavioral issues that arise, and identification of solutions for those behaviors. Identifying reasonable expectations, while developing a system of routines, rituals, and positive reinforcement, has proven successful for the students. As a result, a significant number of parents have applauded the consistent communication and teamwork from the Laurel Life staff to promote improvements across all environments with their children.
Attendance improvements are also influenced by parental engagement in their children’s education. The more involvement the parent has with their child concerning school, the happier the child is to come to school. Students’ attendance has improved dramatically when their parents are more involved in their education. The parents’ interest in school results in the child being excited to come to school, learn, and show their parents the work they completed.
Additionally, positive and appropriate social skills appear to improve for our students in the Transition Program with parental involvement. Students demonstrate increased caring about and respecting of peers and staff. Enhanced social skills lead to more friends, less behavior issues, less conflicts, improved focus on education, and a higher level of engagement in activities. And, ultimately, the positive social skills the students are acquiring will continue to help them beyond school as they get older.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the students’ mental health is improved. I have worked with a number of students exhibiting a wide range of mental health symptoms, including suicidal and homicidal thoughts and behaviors. From this experience, what I have found is that, when parents are actively engaged, children are more likely to feel safe, allowing them to verbalize what they are feeling more openly. Subsequently, when children communicate how they are feeling, parents and school staff are better able to recommend, provide, and follow through with necessary services to help meet the children’s mental health needs. Thus, through working with parents closely, we, as mental health providers, are able to seek and obtain the appropriate and needed services for the child.
It might seem small, but having parents be actively engaged with their children’s education is significant for the growth and success of the child. And, while we have specifically been referring to parental involvement, the same results hold true for other guardians and caretakers who are playing a role in their children’s lives. Over the past 10 years in the Transition Program, I have seen this with many a student. It is just like anything else that a parent is involved in with their children, kids tend to do better and enjoy more with active parental engagement. It works and will help develop a stronger, closer bond between child and parent.
Henderson, A.T., & Mapp, K.L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools.
Gonzalez-DeHass, A.R. (2019). Parent involvement for motivated learners: Encouraging self-directed and resilient students. Routledge.