Presentation to English Language School Board

The board of the PEI Home and School Federation presented to the English Language School Board trustee meeting on May 27, 2013. The slides from the presentation are below; speaker's notes transcript follows.

Home and School: Huh?

We’re the glue.

We’re the glue between home and school.

We’re the glue that connects parents and guardians and students and their brothers and sisters and grandparents and the community at large…

…with teachers and principals and staff and volunteers and administrators and trustees…

But what do we mean by “glue”?

A father came to a home and school meeting concerned that his daughter was bringing home a lot of her lunch uneaten, which prompted a lot of discussion about time for eating, microwaves, and other lunchtime issues. The principal listened to all of this, and then suggested to the parent that perhaps his daughter was bringing too much food to school. The parent thought about it and replied “you’re probably right!” The father, by the way, didn’t speak English, and the principal didn’t speak Nepali. But home and school made sure there was a translator there to allow them to communicate.

Parents at Prince Street School knew that one of the School Development Goals was to focus on numeracy, and we wanted to know how we could help our children with numeracy at home. We arranged a night for parents and teachers to come and hear from the experts – the Board’s numeracy consultants – and they gave us some fun, practical activities backed up by useful educational research. I’ve been skip-counting by 5s with my son every morning since.

The five downtown elementary schools in Charlottetown are almost close enough to see each other, but parents and students of each rarely interacted, biases about schools and neighbourhoods were common, and cooperation was unusual. So home and schools from Prince St., West Kent, Spring Park, St. Jean and Parkdale organized a free “family fun day” at UPEI to get everyone playing together.

Parents at Donagh Home and School noticed that there were some parents who never came out to school functions, so they organized a bike rodeo to try to attract a broader range of parents to a school event. Half the student body attended, and every one of them brought a parent.

In recent years schools have taken more steps to secure their premises and to control access. As much as we want our students safe, we also want to make sure parents feel welcome in schools. So at our annual meeting we passed a resolution calling on the Department and the Board to take steps to see more communication between home and school, and to ensure that parents know they are welcome in schools.

Teachers at Prince Street School were frustrated by the slow and heavily filtered wired Internet network in the school. Wireless Internet was on the horizon, but perhaps not for several years. Working with volunteers, the home and school came up with a low-cost plan to equip the school with wifi, sought permission from the board, the department and from IT Shared Services for a pilot project, secured Bell Aliant as a partner, and installed the network. It’s been running for the last year.

Every year home and schools join together for a provincial annual meeting where we discuss education issues of broad provincial impact. This year and last much of our discussion has focused on the importance of school trustees, and especially on working together to ensure the best possible electoral process.

When we give parents a forum to ask questions about things like school lunches, we connect parents and guardians with principals, keeping the lines of communication open in both directions.

When we organize an evening to educate parents about numeracy, we engage parents with board staff as well as with the principal and teachers and we encourage parents to spend time with their children.

When we get principals, teachers, staff, parents and students from 5 downtown schools cooperating, we help break down neighbourhood barriers, we increase social connections between home and school, and we all have fun. And so when conversations about declining enrolment and rezoning arrive, we’re all more likely to see each other as individuals and friends, and more likely to work together.

When we organize a bike rodeo to bring new parents into the school, we introduce new parents to teachers, principals and staff, and encourage them to come back again another time, and we create an opportunity for parents and their children to have fun and relax in an environment where many parents feel nervous and unwelcome.

When we advocate for schools to take steps to ensure that parents feel welcome and that communication between home and school is free-flowing, clear and regular, we work to engage parents, students, teachers, principals and staff as in education.

When we install a wireless network in a school, we’re supporting educators in their work, helping to route around institutional roadblocks to innovation, and pointing the way to thrifty, creative solutions to using technology in a cash-strapped environment.

And when we spearhead efforts to arrive at the best system for electing school board trustees, we work to ensure that parents and the community at large are in the school board, and feel part of the process of operating schools.

So we’re the glue, but who are we? There are local home and school associations in 55 English language schools across Prince Edward Island, each local made up of engaged parents, teachers and principals working together to provide that “glue” locally.

The PEI Home and School Federation is an umbrella organization: our members are these 55 local associations, and we work to support them in their work, and to focus attention on issues of broad provincial concern.

Everything we do, both provincially and locally, is driven by our mission: “to promote the total well-being of children.” For us this isn’t about politics or power or broad, lofty issues: we’re a movement grounded in the practical and the everyday. We help solve problems, improve conditions, shine light where it needs to be shined. Everything we do is focused on that mission: “to promote the total well-being of children.”

We provide support to our local associations > we gather our locals together twice a year for discussion and debate > we provide parent leadership grants for local projects > we appoint representatives to sit on departmental committees > we run a website full of resources and links > we recognize volunteers, educators and bus drivers for excellence > we run workshops and training for parents > we work with partner organizations like Joint Occupational Health and Safety committees, Council for a Smoke Free PEI, the SHAPES study and the Healthy Eating Alliance > And we provide a voice for parents to speak out on important issues affecting education.

The heart of Home and School, and our strength as an organization, is rooted in our 55 member local organizations, working in schools, grounded in practical, everyday matters that help our children and improve their education.

The greatest resource for getting a handle on our activities is our annual “book of reports”, published every April and available on our website. Every one of our members provides a report of their local activities, and together it’s a compendium of parent engagement activities from one end of the Island to the other.

In that Book of Reports you can learn about the Breakfast Program run by the home and school at Alberton Elementary…

And about parents at Belfast Consolidated working with the school to move the Christmas Concert to the evening so that more parents could attend.

You’ll learn about parents at Birchwood Intermediate bringing families together to create a flower garden at the school…

And about how Bluefield parents organized a “Parent Engagement Night” to bring parents, teachers, administrators and others together to talk about issues ranging from drugs and bullying to university and college prep.

And about how the home and school at Elm Street installed new swing sets on the playground.

You’ll learn about Teacher/Staff Appreciation Week” activities at Glen Stewart…

About the Home and School at M.E. Callaghan working to add resources to the school’s Book Room.

And how parents in Mount Stewart learned about “inferencing” from a teacher who attended one of their meetings.

Parents in O’Leary Elementary were updated by their principal about the school lockdown policy.

And parents at Sherwood Elementary heard from the principal at Three Oaks Senior High about how they can better talk to and help their children.

In those projects and hundreds of others, affecting thousands of parents and students and teachers and staff, home and school is the important “glue”, connecting partners in education together, always with a focus on children and education.

The education system is confusing to many parents. Teachers, principals, board, department: who does what? Who do I call? Who’s in charge? Who’s making the decisions? How can I participate? Where can I complain? How can I offer feedback? My child needs help! Things have been even more confusing over the last two years with changes in governance. And while we know you’re trying, as a board you’re not doing enough: you need to communicate more about what you do, how you do it, and how parents can become engaged in the process. Fortunately, we can help you do that.

In 2009 at our Annual Meeting we passed a resolution “Request for clear procedures that encourage parent communication and involvement in school life.” in which we asked, in part, for clearer more regular communication between school and home, and that steps be made to ensure parents are welcome in and engaged with their child’s school. Four years later this still needs work: we need clear policies and standards from the board about communication between school and home, and clear guidance from the board about how to engage parents in the life of the school.

The important work of the school board is a mystery to many parents. We believe this is part of the reason why voter turnout is so low at school trustee elections. We need to work together to educate parents and the broader community about your work. One way of doing that is for us to attend meetings, as we are tonight; another way is for you to attend our meetings, both our provincial board meetings and meetings of local home and schools in your neighbourhood, and we extend that invitation tonight.

We’re a locally-rooted group of practically minded people engaged with education and focused on the total well-being of children. We’re good at communicating, good at debating and discussing, and good at partnerships. We can help you.

I hope I’ve shed some light on the work we’re doing across PEI in Home and School, and I speak for all parents when I say that we’re ready and willing to work with you. Please visit our website at peihsf.ca to learn more about what we do, and please do call up your local school, find out when the next home and school meeting is, and drop in. There will probably be juice and cookies. Thank you.

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