Where Have All the Parents Gone?

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I awake with a spring in my step, eager to participate in Nia’s school “Clean-Up Day.” As I rushed to meet and greet parents, my enthusiasm was quickly halted by an empty parking lot. No one was there. As I sat in my car watching the minutes roll by, hopeful that my arrival was only due to my promptness, I secretly began to have the sinking feeling that I would be “cleaning-up” solo. I noticed the director of the daycare slowly descend upon the door with the same sinking feeling (I could see it her face). I approached her, and she only greeted me as to ignore the elephant in the room. We happily entered the daycare, and sat for what seemed to be eternity. I did not feel the need to ask if she received any positive feedback on volunteers because it was obvious: Despite the flyers that had been placed in advance, parents were not coming.

After an hour, a dad tapped on the door dripping with paint utensils. His arrival sprang me from my funk. Dad and I crank the radio, and began the work of painting the rooms. After spending a few minutes painting, I popped the question: “What happened to all the parents?” We quickly began a conversation that often resonates with educators, yet far too many parents hate to admit to – parent participation. As we talked, I noticed the sense of desperation and hopelessness in his tone and words. He communicated that our parents don’t spend enough time where it matters – in the lives and spaces of our children. These spaces encompass our schools, daycares, and learning facilities; however, it also extends to our playgrounds, community centers, and parks. He also lamented, “Well, what can you do?” That question remained in my head all day. What can we do when parents don’t participate in the institutions that nurture, educate, care for, and develop our kids? Do we place the responsibility on our teachers to maintain these institutions? Do we make the government responsible for providing resources and money to enhance the visibility and effectiveness of these institutions? My answer to both of these questions is a resounding NO!

After being in the classroom for several years, and promoting education and the humanities, I KNOW that parent participation is a REQUIREMENT for student success. All organizations/institutions that succeed financially and academically have strong parental involvement and support. As I reflect on some of our strongest schools, community centers, and learning centers I am always aware of their parent involvement and support. Even at the local YMCAs, the centers with the strongest youth programs have active parents that BRING them to the gym, that INVOLVE them in physical activities, that ADVOCATE for programs that involve and promote the wellness of their children. Often, I am presented with the argument that programs, resources, and improvements cost money. But, I reply, “No they don’t!” As I mentioned to dad, as I dropped pink paint on my sneakers, the Clean-Up Day only costs one thing – time.

We successfully completed the rooms, pink dyed and all. While I was saddened by the lack of participation, I left with the realization that ONE person can make a difference. We painted two classrooms that dozens of kids and teachers will take of advantage of in the future. We also saved our daycare money by painting the rooms ourselves. Everyday, now, I bring Nia to school and take a look at our work. While we may never get a pat on the back from those parents that didn’t participate, the little smiles we see everyday are enough.

For educators, check out the book The Do’s and Don’ts of Parent Involvement: How to Build a Positive School-Home Partnership. Let’s give parents some homework!

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