One of the most important contributions that parents can make for their kids is a willingness to get involved in their education and it is sometimes taken for granted.
That is less the case in private schools, which are increasingly leveraging parents’ associations to help them do just that.
“Parents are the primary educators of their children,” says James McKinnon, principal at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto. “Our role is to provide a positive and challenging environment to facilitate the learning.”
Schools and parents get outsized results when they collaborate. At St. Michael’s, that happens through the St. Michael’s College School Parents’ Association, where representatives meet monthly to assist in co-ordinating volunteers, fundraising and arranging social activities.
“[Our] ambassador program connects current parents to new and prospective parents,” McKinnon says. “This enables them to make connections and answer questions about the school experience.”
The association also helps parents who want to monitor their children’s in-school activities. “Our online portal enables parents to check with teachers and view classroom work and expectations,” McKinnon says. “Being informed assists positive engagement.”
McKinnon has a point. Parents’ role in children’s education is well established, according to How Can Schools Support Parents’ Engagement in their Children’s Learning? – a study produced by the Education Endowment Foundation.
“The evidence suggests that it has many benefits,” note the authors. These include “improvements in literacy and math skills, better school attendance and closure of the achievement gap.”
Havergal College, an independent girls’ school in Toronto, also makes great efforts to encourage families to get involved. These include supporting activities ranging from coaching, to chaperoning on school trips and “Dads and Daughters” nights, says Tony diCosmo, its executive director.
“Our parents’ association plays a big role,” he says. “We are in constant dialogue with them.”
Parental grade representatives from Kindergarten to senior year, meet monthly to share information and plan new initiatives. These include presentations by support specialists on such academic issues as literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), to child development and what parents can expect at various ages and stages. The grade representatives can then share that information with other parents.
These contributions are particularly valuable during an era of shrinking family sizes. Parents today have less access to friends and family with children of their own with which they can share experiences. Those involved in parental school associations cite the spinoff effect of bonding with other parents.
Kingsway College School in Etobicoke, Ont., is in many ways a poster child for parental engagement. According to Hallie McClelland, its director of advancement, the pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 school was founded by parents who wanted to foster an educational environment that focused on “respect, manners and trying your best.”
That involvement continues to this day. An impressive 95 per cent of parents’ volunteer at various activities and the average Kingsway College School family contributes 15 hours per year to a variety of initiatives.
For example, last year the parents’ association contributed to the launch of an environmentally friendly uniform recycling and retention effort that reduces the school’s ecological footprint and meshes with its existing green initiative.
“It’s been a fantastic success,” McClelland says of the program, through which its 406 students saw 17 volunteer parents do much more than just talk about the environment. “Kids today are very concerned about the future. The initiative provided a great way for parents to show that they care, too.”
Kingsway College stakeholders recently got another good reason to care about the future. School officials have announced that they would be holding a town hall on Feb. 11 to celebrate that the school has secured a site for its Senior School, which will open in September 2021. This would enable current students to complete Grade 9 through to Grade 12 with the friends that they made during their elementary and junior years.
The site sits next to greenspace along the shores of Lake Ontario and will consist of the second and third floors of commercial space at the Empire Eau de Soleil condominiums, and will include access to a rooftop terrace above the third floor.
Our Kids tip: Tap into parents
“You can infer a lot about the inner health of a school by its leadership — parents often underestimate its importance. The best way to gauge a school’s leadership, as an outsider, is to speak with current parents. Call on them to provide insight into the administration, You’ll find them happy to oblige."
— OurKids.net, Canada’s Private School Guide
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.