By Kylene Dibble, MSW
At Parents for Public Schools of Pitt County, we have always stressed that “parent engagement” is essential to our children’s’ education. “Parent involvement” is important, too, but is definitely not the same thing. In fact, our Parent Engagement Program has a whole module dedicated to understanding the difference between parent involvement and parent engagement. Parent involvement is just what it says….being involved, doing things for a school. This could be showing up for the school play or dropping a box of snacks in your child’s book bag to give to their teacher. Parent engagement takes involvement up a level by engaging, connecting with the school. Maybe it looks like serving as a field trip chaperone, or tutoring one of your child’s peers each week. Parents connect in various ways to schools and what works for one family looks different from what works for another. Now, of course, in COVID times, everything looks different.
As we look ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, we must begin to re-imagine what parent involvement and parent engagement will look like. I don’t know about you, but as I was listening to Governor Cooper discuss the upcoming school year, my heart sank as I heard him say that there will be strong limits on the number of outside visitors allowed in school buildings this year. While grateful for the steps taken to keep us all safe, I worried that meant that I can’t be connected to my child’s school this year. As the Executive Director of Parents For Public Schools, you can imagine that connecting parents to schools is pretty important to me. And to think that this would not be an option felt almost as unnatural as having to make that July 27 decision whether to have my children learn from home full time, or send them to school part time.
But here is the thing….we the parents of Pitt County Schools’ students ….are going to make this choice and figure out the best form of education for our children this year, whether that education happens at our kitchen table or in the school building, or both. And eventually, whatever option we have chosen will begin to feel normal. In the same way, new ways of parent involvement and parent engagement will start to feel normal, too.
So, what does parent involvement and parent engagement look like this year? I wish I had a formula or an easy answer, but I don’t. What I do know is that the connection between parents and schools is more important this year than ever. I don’t know what this connection will look like, and how it will happen outside the walls of the school, but I am sure that it will happen. Maybe you will still send packaged snacks to your child’s classroom. Maybe instead of going into the classroom to volunteer, you’ll be a guest speaker on a Zoom call. Maybe instead of eating lunch in the classroom with your child, you’ll put a blanket on a floor on a rainy day and have “school lunch” during one of your childrens’ learn from home days.
We may have to work a bit harder to create parent involvement and engagement this year. We may have to be more creative, think outside the box a bit more, and be ready to take an opportunity when it comes along. We also need to find new ways to support teachers and school administrators. And while I don’t know exactly what the connection between parents and schools will look like this year, I do know I can step up by letting my child’s school and my child’s teacher know that I am standing by, ready to help, whatever form that takes. Just like everything else about this pandemic, we will do the best we can do, staying flexible and supporting each other every step of the way. In seeing us do that, our children are getting great lessons in what it means to have an active role in their own education and in their community.
So let’s pull together to support our students and Pitt County Schools. Do you have ideas for connecting with your child’s educational experience this year? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share ideas on social media throughout the year!