In the preceding blog, #2 in my 4-part series on parental and community engagement, I discussed the differences between involvement and engagement. However, the distinction was not made to suggest that if a parent is ‘involved’, their actions, care and personal investment in their child’s education is any less than one who is ‘engaged’. In order to create a meaningful and healthy school community, I would suggest that both involvement and engagement are necessary.
In this blog, I would like to share with you some of the specific ways parents and the Lakeview Community residents are involved and engaged at the Calgary Science School.
At CSS, our three pillars on which our school is situated are: inquiry based teaching and learning; technology and outdoor education. The main source of parental involvement is through our outdoor education trips. Parents not only help with supervision, cooking and cleaning, during the camps, but also with the set up and take down of tents and materials.
Another avenue for parent involvement is when teachers enlist the help of parents to put up and take down bulletin boards. This is often a great way to bring parents into the school, especially in the younger grades.
Involvement at CSS also includes inviting parents to our annual Meet the Teacher evening during the first week of school. This helps parents to connect with their child’s teacher(s) and can contribute to establishing meaningful connection. In addition, some grades, such as grade 5, hosts a family picnic within the first couple of weeks at a local park. Parents have consistently commented on how thoroughly they enjoy, not only an opportunity to meet the teachers in a more relaxed environment, but also the ability to connect and build relationships with other parents.
Although the previous are more ‘usual’ ways of involving parents, there are also numerous examples at CSS where there is ‘engagement’.
As a classroom teacher, I try to involve parents a couple of times throughout the year in assessment and feedback of their child’s work. In the past, for example, I would provide instructions and a rubric for parents to assess their child’s introduction to their historical iMovie script. This engages parents in the learning of their child and can also open up communication between them and their child about what they are learning in school.
A significant contribution to our school’s ability to involve and engage parents is The Calgary Science School Volunteer Committee, was started by two parents in 2010. Denise Ronsky and Rebecca Lyon have promoted parent and community involvement through: creating a volunteer website; developing a volunteer handbook; organizing parent volunteer sessions; making presentations to staff about working with parents and community volunteers; compiling a summary of areas of interest and special talents parents are willing to share; identifying teacher resource needs; establishing a volunteer communication system through room representatives; sharing ideas for community volunteer involvement through the school and community newsletters; and facilitating matches for teacher needs and volunteer areas of interest and expertise.
According to the CSS website, the school council’s primary purpose is to foster the well-being and effectiveness of the Calgary Science School community, so as to enhance student learning. The school council meets monthly to conduct the business of the council and to provide a forum for all parents to be engaged. Council meetings regularly feature guest speakers from the student body, teaching staff and school administration. Council meetings provide an opportunity for parents to advise school administration on the operation of the school.
In addition, council has a number of committees that support the school community, including: coordinating all of the volunteers for the school (except volunteers for field trips and outdoor education trips); organizing parent education seminars and an annual parent conference; undertaking an annual survey of parents to guide council’s planning, operations and advice to school administration; delivering a fun lunch program; organizing social functions; working with school administration on traffic safety considerations around the school; and much more. School council also works closely with the Calgary Science School Parent Fundraising Society and school administration, to ensure the success of parent-initiated fundraising for the school.
Engaging parents and the value placed on this definitely comes from the culture of the school. This is directly influenced by a school’s administration. I had an opportunity to chat with our principal Mr. Darrell Lonsberry about his thoughts on how our school’s administration facilitates the engagement of parents.
One initiative Mr. Lonsberry has taken on is Dialogue with Darrell where once a month Darrell makes himself available in the school staff room for parents to drop in and ask him any questions about his vision, projects in the school, etc. This helps to create transparency, which Mr. Lonsberry mentioned was critical in creating meaningful parental engagement at the school. He also encourages parents to ask questions, which for him involves careful listening and then action. This ensures parents understand their voice is important and is valued by the school’s administration. A final point Mr. Lonsberry thinks is critical in parental and community engagement is making sure there is recognition of their efforts.
As a Charter School, CSS’ population is comprised of students from all over the city, with approximately 70% of the students being bussed in. This tends to have the impact of a charter school not being seen as a community school and therefore not part of the community it resides in. So, engaging one’s community for charter schools can be challenging and require more time and attention than for community schools.
A significant and ongoing community project for us at CSS is the Lakeview Community Garden. This initiative involved parents, students, administration, teachers, and of course community members. The process for the garden started in June of 2010 with the writing and submission of a grant proposal, which was facilitated by parents and teachers. The planning phase lasted one year with consultation with school and community stakeholders and ended with the creation of our garden in June of 2011. The garden is still a work in progress and a site for ongoing opportunities for community engagement.