Chicago Community’s Program Turns Parents into Partners

Parents play an important role in the academic success of their children, and in Chicago, a community group has started a parent-mentor program to involve parents in their children's education. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association has recruited about 1,800 parents over the past 18 years to spend two hours a day, five days a week for a semester or more in their children's schools.

The parent-mentor program also encourages parents to further their own education. Currently, the program operates in 65 schools throughout Illinois, with 14 run by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the others by other community groups. In 28 of the schools, the program started last spring and the Illinois State Board of Education provided $1 million in expansion funds, writes Linda Shaw of The Seattle Times.

Parental involvement helped students improve in math and reading in the Logan Square schools, where the program has the longest track record. Principals and teachers believe that parents contribute to harder-to-measure but equally important areas such as student motivation.

Students "are quite moved and inspired by having their parents being involved in the school," said Soo Hong, an assistant professor at Wellesley College who wrote a book about the program. "Sometimes it's accountability, too," she said. "Students know if they start messing up in the classroom … sure, maybe it's not their mother who's there, but it's their aunt's neighbor or somebody they know."

A new study, started this fall, will provide more concrete data on the academic impact of the parent program. The researchers plan to closely monitor students in two schools, where the mentors are assigned to help. They will observe their behavior in classrooms and analyze their test scores.

In Washington State, many schools use parent programs. Seattle, Federal Way, and Kent are among the districts with new efforts aimed at parents who usually do not attend PTA meetings. More and more schools across the country are giving parents a bigger voice in school-improvement efforts.

Logan Square's program installs a cadre of 10 to 20 moms and dads in each participating school, giving them a substantive role in helping students who need extra assistance. Parent mentors have gone on to lead school committees, receive college degrees, and manage five after-school centers that grew out of the parent mentor program.

In addition to the parent mentor program, the neighborhood association has also helped begin a teacher training program. To date, 23 mentors have graduated, including Ebelia Mucino, who started as a parent mentor about 15 years ago and now works at Avondale-Logandale School in Logan Square, where she finds great joy in teaching kindergarteners to read.

In 1995, the parent-mentor program was launched at Funston Elementary on the west side of Logan Square, an immigrant neighborhood where most students in regular public schools are from Latino families.

A 2010 study concluded that strong parent involvement was one of the five best predictors of whether reading and math scores would increase significantly. The study was conducted by a group of researchers at the University of Chicago. They examined seven years of data from 200 schools.

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