During the month of August, thousands of children will head back to schools in Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana 116 school districts. Many African American families and students are probably anxious about the new school year because of issues they encountered last year such as excessive school discipline, suspensions, poor grades, and negative interactions with school personnel.
For decades, research has shown that inadequate parental involvement in schools may result in a high attrition rate among African American children. Many believe that an effective level of involvement must be maintained by parents for African American children to reap the benefits of the educational process. This is critical if black students are to gain a better sense of empowerment and personal esteem. Consistent efforts must be undertaken by the local schools to establish an environment conducive to constant participation. The establishment of such an environment for schools can be aided by insight into the needs of the parents as well as their children.
J.P. Comer’s research in the 1980s found that, generally, parents in our school systems are the primary players in the daily process of educating children. He found that in disadvantaged urban areas, poor and minority parents are generally unrecognized, unappreciated, often dismissed, and considered by the public school system as having little to offer.
Comer also championed the idea that the parents of children attending schools in urban cities have untapped potential and resources. He felt that socio-economic factors and traditional patterns of interaction frequently mitigate positive exchange between school personnel and their constituents in poor, urban communities because parents tend to distrust schools. As a result, parents avoid contact with school personnel and are characterized as disinterested.
Other research suggests that many school systems operate with indifference toward parents because of the authority and power given to them. School personnel, i.e., principals, teachers, and staff, often erect barriers such as poor communication that leave poor and minority parents out of the educational process, causing parents to limit their involvement in their children’s educational endeavors.
Sadly, in 2016, despite having knowledge about the benefits of parent and family involvement, Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana 116 school districts still have weak connections with the families and communities they serve. In particular, African American families are less able to realize the same levels of achievement and school attendance as other families.
Parental involvement in the educational process requires a great deal of time and effort. This becomes even more difficult if parents have several children in school at different levels of instruction, in different buildings, and if the children are involved in extra-curricular activities.
While educators are aware of the potential of parent involvement for improving children’s school achievement, many do not realize the importance of involving families in meaningful school-family partnerships. Schools need to raise achievement levels of students from poor and minority families, as well as for middle-class students, so that our nation can maintain its competitive edge economically and politically. This means that Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana 116 school districts need to establish clear policies on family involvement and reach out to all parents on a continuing basis, providing personal contact, literature and classes on parenting, literacy training, and parental resource centers.
Parental involvement in schools is important to African Americans because they are often on the periphery of society. Historically, African Americans have been excluded from the public school decision making process in Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana 116 school districts. As a result, they often have feelings of alienation and hopelessness.
I’m hopeful that in the 2016-2017 school year, school district personnel in Champaign-Urbana will make parent involvement a priority throughout the and have meaningful dialogue with African American parents in order to strengthen connections with the communities they serve.
Dr. Deloris P. Henry is a former school administrator who lives in Champaign. She has devoted her life to social justice, education, and community advocacy work.