by Barbara Scherr
As the mother of a 10th grader, I think a lot about how to explore my daughter’s options once she graduates. Besides talking to friends with older kids, where do I begin this journey? Is she college bound, career bound, interested in military, or a technical or trade school?
What an overwhelming area to navigate! I am fortunate to work in education with abundant resources around me. To almost any question about education that occurs to me, I am a few steps, floors, or a phone call away from getting an answer.
The critical question is – “What about…?” What about parents/guardians who don’t have information at their fingertips? What about parents who every day worry about keeping a roof over their family’s head or food on the table? What about parents who speak limited English or are illiterate? How are schools ensuring that parents from all walks of life have access to information about their child’s post-secondary options -– four-year college, community college, technical schools/vocational programs, school to work programs, or the military?
While students are exposed to future educational opportunities, what about their parents/guardians? Can we assume that by the time students are in high school, they know enough to make big decisions on their own? Or that they will share information they receive in school with their parents? Is sending home an annual letter or flier promoting a college and/or career fair enough? One size does not fit all. If the school is not providing an intentional outreach in multiple ways to parents/guardians, where do we turn?
In my unscientific research asking friends if their high school provides information about post-secondary opportunities to them (not just their child), I find the answer is mostly no. Only a few said they got information from a parent involvement conference, a letter their child brought home, or a robo-call about a college fair. Typically, parents/guardians had to figure out for themselves how to navigate the uncharted territory.
Over five decades of research demonstrate that family engagement is a powerful influence on student achievement. Preparing our children to think about their future begins when they are born. Although information for families is readily available in early childhood and elementary school, its availability wanes at the secondary levels. Preparing parents for their child’s next steps after high school is just as important as ensuring children come to school ready to learn.
There are great programs that prepare students for their post-secondary journey. Some examples are AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), and ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). Most have a family engagement component.
How wonderful it would be if programs like these were a part of every high school’s curriculum. For families whose children do not have access to such programs, there are free resources on line, such as the US Department of Education’s website, but we must connect parents to these resources.
We need to create a “yellow brick road” leading parents to this invaluable information! Conversations about our children’s future should occur throughout their educational journey, and not just in school. After-school programs, religious organizations, and community based programs all must help to pave the yellow brick road for parents.
Barbara Scherr – Education Specialist, Maryland State Department of Education; NAFSCE Board Member