Skip to main content

Parent Involvement

Lawrence Public School District
Lawrence, Massachusetts

Research tells us that successful prevention and intervention programs require the active participation of parents. Many school- and community- based programs struggle with getting and keeping parents involved in programs. The Lawrence Public School District in Lawrence, Massachusetts strives for parent involvement in prevention/intervention programs as well as within school activities in general. They have established outreach efforts to attract and retain parents on both these levels. Carl DeRubeis, Facilitator of Lawrence Public Schools' SS/HS project, described two strategies they use to get and keep parents involved.

The first strategy identifies, trains and encourages parents to lead other parents. Parent to parent outreach is one of the most effective tools a school district can use to stimulate participation in school activities. Every school in Lawrence has a parent to parent network in place. The school district has two programs to train parent leaders: Project PLAN (Parent Leadership Assistance Network) and EPIC (Every Person Influences Children). Once trained, the parent leaders reach out to parents who may need mentoring. They also network and create connections across the school district. As well, they become powerful recruiters for school activities - really, an unpaid cadre of motivators. Parent leaders also provide valuable feedback to the school district about the community. Carl's advice is to regularly refresh your pool of parent leaders. Teachers, administrators and counselors know which parents are involved in school activities - they're your best source for identifying potential parent leaders.

In addition, Lawrence also hires parent liaisons to work with school counselors, nurses and families. They're a credible source of parent outreach. Most live in Lawrence and have had children go through the school system. They all speak Spanish and all parent contact is bilingual - critical for a community for which English is a second language in 87% of the homes. Their role includes direct interaction with parents whose child has been identified with behavioral or emotional issues. One of the most valuable roles they perform is outlining the benefits to a proposed prevention/intervention program for a parent and his/her child. Parents who hear "mental health" in connection with their child are leery about participating. Parent liaisons provide greater context by relaying the positive experiences others have had with the various intervention programs.

A second method Lawrence uses to get and retain parent involvement is to host a series of open forums. Parents are invited to express their concerns and opinions about Lawrence schools. Discussions have centered around violence in the schools and neighborhoods, discipline and safety in the classrooms, and the quality of education their children receive, etc. Carl believes that the reason the forums have been so successful is that parents set the agenda. Not only does this allow the Lawrence school district to understand parents' concerns but it allows parents to be part of problem solving. Carl believes the most important forum is the first one of the year - once parents see and hear that they have the floor, they're willing to keep coming. This lays the foundation for open communication and success grows from there.

Often times the most difficult part of organizing a community event is getting people to attend. Lawrence school district has several strategies to encourage parent attendance at the open forum. In addition to the traditional notices on community cable TV and flyers, they use direct appeals from parent leaders, school leaders, PTO members, school counselors and parent liaisons.