I was speaking to someone who just moved to the United States about what to expect from the public school system.
It was insightful to learn that while this person had visited the United States a lot over the past 10-years and even attended university in the states, their idea of how schools are run and parents' role in the way things are done at schools was surprising to her.
Overall, she was impressed that while parents have a lot of power in telling the schools what they like or don't like, they mostly DON'T exercise that right.
This conversation made me realize that the reason so many parents don't get involved in decision-making processes at their children's schools is not that they do not care. It's because of a lack of knowledge.
So, I decided to share a few things you should know if you would like to take more control of your child's education in public or private schools.
✅ Parents and community members can request the minutes of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), Parent-Teachers Organization (PTO), English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC), and African American Committee (AAC), Site School Council (SSC), or any other parent group meetings at any time. You do this by contacting the group or committee leaders, the school secretary, the school principal, or the vice-principal. There should be no apprehension to provide you with this information. Parents have the right to ask for them.
✅ You can call the school leaders and ask for specific questions such as how many bullying incidents were reported last month/quarter/year, etc. Just a warning, some might not be comfortable sharing this information because it can feel like parents or community members might label or stigmatize the school if the numbers are high.
✅ Does your child's school have a bullying prevention program? Do you want to know how much money is being used for that program? You can ask that too! PLEASE, DO ASK ABOUT THIS>
✅ You can ask how much the school has spent on printing expenses or other costs. (A lot of schools spend a lot of their budget on printing).
Does your school have certain programs for the students or parents?
✅ You can ask how many people participate in certain programs, and how much the school spends on each of them.
Does your school not have any outreach programs for parents?
✅ You can ask why the school doesn't offer any and what is required to get one started.
✅ Did you also know that you can volunteer to start a program if you present a good plan for it?
If your school doesn't have a PTA, PTO, ELAC, and other parent groups or committees you can definitely initiative to start one. If one exists, but it's mostly inactive, you can volunteer to revive it. However, it does take work and consistency.
Ask to become part of it and help and you can also propose ideas without having to run them.
✅ Do you want to know how many students are behind in reading or in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program? You can ask that too. You cannot ask for a specific list of names, but you can ask for the number of kids in certain programs.
Just know that according to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil; Rights Amendment (PPRA), a school will NEVER provide anyone names of children or any of their personal contact information.
✅ Want to know how many students graduate each year, how many are in special needs programs, or how many are expelled? You can ask that too.
✅ Lastly, if you notice that a program is being run badly or great, you can also give your feedback to school leaders at any time. Usually, you can do this via email, and/or you can directly speak with the school administration to share your thoughts.
Just a word of advice...if you will share what you see failing, be sure to provide solutions.
Most kids NEVER tell an adult that they're being bullied because they try to handle the situation alone or they fear that telling an adult might make matters worse.
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