Your School Needs You!

Too busy to pitch in at your child's school? Here, the president of the National PTA shares some high-tech solutions that help parents get more involved in their kids' education -- on their own time.

In my two years as president of the National Parent Teacher Association, I've talked to concerned, conscientious parents from all over the country about why so many of them are not more involved in their children's schools. "The principal and the teachers aren't welcoming," some people tell me. "The PTA is cliquey and snobbish," others complain. And then there's the most commonly invoked reason of all: "My husband and I both work," parents say with a sigh. "We just don't have the time."

All of these objections are valid. Yet there's one overriding reason why parents should do whatever they can to get past the obstacles: Their kids will benefit.

Study after study over the past few decades has proved that children whose parents stay closely involved in their schooling are more successful academically than those whose parents remain uninvolved. They complete more homework, achieve higher grades, have more positive attitudes, and generally behave better.

Kids aren't the only beneficiaries. Parents are always telling me about the good friends they make through school involvement, the fun they have, and the greater emotional closeness they feel with their children.

That's why, as America's kids are busy buying notebooks and sharpening pencils in anticipation of the new school year, we at the PTA are undertaking an ambitious goal: to get more parents involved. We want to make them aware of new technology that can make it easier for them to stay on top of what's going on at their children's schools and to contribute time even when it is limited. Here, a few possibilities to consider.

School Web pages: The Internet has opened up myriad ways for parents to stay in touch. Many schools have Web pages that contain information about upcoming meetings, news about student achievements, and photographs of special events. You can check out your school's Web page to stay in touch. Better yet, why not volunteer to help create or maintain one? Because it's something that can be done from home, it's a great way for working parents to devote time to their children's school.

Homework hotlines: A hotline allows parents and students to call in each evening to hear a recorded announcement of that day's assignments. "It's so much easier for me to monitor my son's schoolwork now," says Susan Davis, whose son attends Glenfield Middle School, in Montclair, New Jersey, where teachers have set up such a line. Many hotlines also refer students to volunteers who can help with an assignment by phone. Signing on as a homework volunteer is a terrific option for a parent who can't help out during the day.

E-mail teacher conferences: Nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation with your child's teacher, and it's important to meet personally at least once or twice a year. But e-mail is often an effective and practical way to express concerns, ask questions, or offer support for your child's teacher or principal. Ask your school if it provides a list of the faculty's e-mail addresses. If it doesn't, talk to administrators about getting "wired."

Videotaped events: Every parent wants to go to her child's school assemblies and performances, but that can be tough for moms and dads with jobs during traditional school hours. Increasingly, schools videotape band recitals and school plays, then lend out the videotapes or sell them to raise funds. Watching a tape of your child in a performance makes you feel connected to the school in a way that merely hearing about it does not.

Televised meetings: Another key component of parental involvement is understanding your school and district policies. Ideally, you would attend PTA, school-board, and town-council meetings, but again, that's often impossible for busy parents. That's why these meetings are frequently taped and broadcast by your local cable channel on evenings and weekends, when it's more convenient for you to watch. Check your local TV listings.Of course, there are still plenty of low-tech ways to get involved that go beyond whipping up brownies for the annual PTA bake sale (a tried-and-true contribution that can also be made during nonschool hours). Rather than think of all the reasons why you can't be active, come up with some creative ways to help out within the confines of your schedule.No more excuses. Your child's education is simply too important to be left up to everyone else.