In the June 3 editorial, The Cortez Journal asked, “What does public education really need from parents and the community?” I thank the Journal for allowing me the opportunity to outline my vision of what great parental and community support looks like.
Schools do not expect every one of its parent supporters to be the “super parent” who attends every meeting, chairs the parent teacher association group, volunteers weekly in their children’s classroom, and helps photocopy the school newsletter each month. While we love these parents, we know that many of our community members do not have the time or inclination to be so involved in school. What we do hope each member of our community will consider, however, is the following.
The first role engaged and supportive parents play occurs years before the child ever sets foot in our public schools. There is conclusive evidence demonstrating the great benefit of parents speaking to, reading to, and engaging with their children from the earliest stages of infancy. The research on this is clear: The language environment children are exposed to in the first 36 months of life has huge implications on their cognitive development and upon their readiness to succeed in school when they come to us in kindergarten. We encourage the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors of our youngest community members to spend time speaking to them with high levels of sophistication, with a wide variety of vocabulary, and in a diverse scope of content areas. You’ll be amazed at how well these youngsters listen, and you’ll be doing them a great service by engaging their fast-growing brains.
Schools need parents to tell their children that school is the No. 1 priority for the child outside of the home. Research shows that parents who send a clear, consistent, and often-repeated message that school success is non-negotiable almost always have students who succeed in school. By putting school as the top priority – before sports, dance lessons, karate, free-play, and certainly before computer, video games and TV time – parents are demonstrating to their children that they expect them to attain a high-quality education. This sounds easy, but as a parent of two active and precocious elementary aged children, I know that sending this message consistently requires firm resolve and a dedicated commitment from the entire family. By establishing these expectations early, however, I know my job as a parent will be much easier as school success becomes a habit for my kids.
Schools need parents to make it clear that they expect their child to graduate from high school ready to succeed in college or some other type of post-secondary training. Research tells us that a high school diploma is no longer sufficient to provide a citizen a reasonable chance of economic stability in the 21st century. We know that if parents send a consistent message that they expect students to be ready to succeed after high school, the chances of their students taking their schooling seriously and persevering through the hard times that every student encounters in their school careers goes through the roof.
School need parents to back up their positive messages with determined action. The most concrete and significant way parents can do this is to ensure that their children attend school every day possible, and do their school work every night possible. In the 2013-14 school year, almost 20 percent of the children who attended Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 missed 20 or more days of school. That means that one child out of five missed at least four full school weeks, a month of school last year! There is an old saying in education, “If they aren’t here, we can’t teach them.” We desperately want our students to attend school as regularly as possible, and parents are our best allies in this effort.
Finally, schools desperately need this community to reinvest in the children and schools of our district. Our city, our county, our region, our state, and our nation all have much to gain from providing the current generation with the highest quality education possible. The kids of this district have unlimited potential, and it is up to us to provide them with the schools, teachers, and opportunities the deserve so they may exceed even our wildest expectations of them. When the time comes to demonstrate support for school, I ask that each citizen commit to investing in our children so we can be confident in our future.
Alexander Carter is the superintendent of the Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.