Arizona Education: Community/Parent involved in Education

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Involvement in schools by parents and the community is often cited as critical to the success of students. We’ll show you how one parent is involved in her daughter’s school and then discuss the concept of parental and community involvement with Pendergast School District superintendent Lily Matos DeBlieux, Pendergast Governing Board president Susan Serin and Martha Serrano, a parent and member of the PTA.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: In tonight's Arizona education segment, we focus on community and parent engagement. Research shows the more parents are involved, the more likely their students will have strong social skills and academic success. That's what producer Christina Estes, and photographer Miguel Valverde found at Westwind elementary in Phoenix.

STUDENT: Is it the pink or blue numbers?

RACHEL GENTLE: I think she is a little superstar. I see so much opportunity within her. So, I'm just happy to be her mom.

CTS!: Rachel Gentle's pride in her 13-year-old daughter is understandable.

TIERRA: I let my parents know about almost everything I do.

CTS!: Tierra does a lot from earning straight A's, volunteering at church and playing volleyball and serves as a teacher assistant.

TIERRA GENTLE: I go to a fourth grade classroom and help the children if they need help with their grammar.

CTS!: High expectations are the norm at school and home.

RACHEL GENTLE: We will have her helping her younger siblings and then we will do activities like this past summer, we did like she had to get certain words out of the dictionary. Her dad would have her doing projects with him, history and things of that sort. We try to stay involved to keep her challenged.

CTS!: Sometimes the challenge involves getting up earlier on a school day. Tierra is among two dozen students picked to serve on the superintendent eighth grade council. A recent community breakfast, she stood with fellow members and shared her motto.

RACHEL GENTLE: We're here at the school doing different things with the school in this community, at least once a month or every other week doing something different. And if we're not involved, if we don't care, then who will?

TIERRA GENTLE: I like them to go to things just so that I can know that my parents go and so other people can be like, oh, yeah. Tierra's parents are coming, Yay. And then -- so they can hopefully bring their parents as well. I feel like I'm a leader. If my parents are going, then more people would have their parents show up as well. I feel like I'm a leader, so if my parents are going, other people's parents will show up as well.

RACHEL GENTLE: It's the school's responsibility to give them the basics of education. It is our job to make sure that they're retaining and understanding what they are being taught at school. As parents, I feel like it is our job to give our kids 100% of us. And if you don't have the time, it's important that you try to make the time for your kids because if you're not invested in your kids, how could you expect the school to invest in your kids, community to invest in your kids

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: According to the centers for disease control and prevention, children with parents who are engaged in their school lives are less likely to smoke, drink, and become pregnant. Here to talk more about parental and community involvement is Pendergast school district superintendent Lily Matos Deblieux, Pendergast governing board president Susan Serin, and Martha Serrano president of the PTO and Kimli Garber a volunteer, welcome to all of you. Lily let me start with you, what does it take, what are the differences between parents who are involved and parents who aren't?

LILY MATOS DEBLIEUX : It makes a huge different for parents who are involved. Their children's self-esteem rises. They're very proud of the family that they come to help. It makes such a difference for student achievement. We're in a partnership with these parents. The students are aware of it. They can't trick us because they know we're friends and we're partners, and so much more happens at home that needs to happen.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Susan, what are the qualities that exist among families that do have that involvement and families that need to get more involved?

SUSAN SERIN: I think the families that are involved, they have -- their children are very active in the schools. And they come to see what's going on. They come to the presentations. We have a superintendent, eighth grade council, and those parents actually come to the board meetings with the students to see what's going on in the district. So, it really is a great partnership when we get these parents involved.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: I do want to turn to the parents. Is there a generational thing that's going on here? I wonder, if you have an example to follow, good example to follow, anything that we have in life, it sort of makes it easier to take the next step. Do we have to start with generations in the past or can we start fresh with a new generation that maybe didn't have that encouragement for that parent?

MARTHA SERRANO: I think it -- for all of the time it is very important. The children can be more secure. The children are happy. And they feel comfortable with you and they have -- they know that they come with you -- activities are better. We need to be encourage them -- we don't have time. Now, it's going to be tomorrow. Maybe parents cannot have time with us in the past, but we have the time with them.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: What is your personal experience as far as this goes? What makes you an involved parent? Did you have a good example to follow with your parents' generation?

KIMLI GARBER: I did have a good example to follow with my parents' generation. They didn't necessarily have the luxury of extra time to be at the school and involved in the classroom like I do, and I find that that has made a huge difference with my relationship with my sons that are -- and I feel like I -- I really have a finger on the pulse of their performance in school. So, it's -- it's giving us a stronger bond and it has given me a more active role in their lives and their education.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: This partnership is an interesting dynamic, this idea that people are working together. I think there is part of me that used to be skeptical for a second, this concern that someone's parents would lean on schools a bit too much, lean on teachers to take some of their responsibility. How is that synching up to make sure that the schools are listening to the parents and also vice versa?

LILY MATOS DEBLIEUX: And sometimes that is the case. However, it is because of lack of knowledge. And when you have parents who are involved, they truly understand what's happening in the educational setting, have much more respect for the teachers, and really know what they need to do to help their students at school. That is a partnership with the parents. Partnership with the community is the same thing. We want them to know what is going on in the school system. We are preparing the students that are going to take their jobs over in the not so near future, but that is going to happen. And we want them to understand what goes on in the schools. When you read about the school systems, it's not usually favorable issues that are discussed however if you go to the school sites, you will see all of the wonderful things that are going on.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Susan let me follow up with you on that. What is it that you see that indicates that parents, community, that schools are starting to work better, I mean there has to be that communication, but even with communication, there can be disagreement. How do we get so the disagreement is productive?

SUSAN SERIN: We try to draw the parents in. We have community -- a community cabinet once a month. We also have once a month a parent luncheon where we ask them what topics do they want to speak about and so they -- we have had 80 to 100 parents attend those. We are grateful for it because it does cement the partnerships with us. And I think they see, they learn about voting, they learn about college readiness and they take that back home, and they -- they push their students to do better. We have even that.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Parents, are you seeing that as well?

MARTHA SERRANO: Yes. And when you are involved in the school, you can -- you understand your teachers, you have more communication with your teachers, and the children -- all of the time proud of you. Oh, my daughter is here at the school. So, it's -- my experience has been great at the school, PTO, and collaborate with the school, work with the schools together, and make the -- the things that the budget -- provide to the schools. It is a really great labor with the schools' teacher. It is great.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: I would like to get, based on the experience that you have had, do you find that the communication is getting better and better?

KIMLI GARBER: Absolutely. Communication especially for parents that get involved on campus is more relaxed and you have a less strained communication and rapport with the teachers. You have the opportunity to really check in with them more frequently and see, you know, is my son bringing home his home work like he was supposed to? Did he have home work today? Things like that that make a big difference.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: I want to start with you and have all of you address this. Multi-generations at this table, are there new challenges, whether it is more technology, social media, what not, is it harder to get students to be focused on education? Is it harder to get students to be focused on education, respect what the parents or teachers want them to do?

KIMLI GARBER: That's up to the parents. I mean, if you let your child play video games all day, of course, they're not going to be doing their homework. And my grandmother, used to have a favorite saying, poco a poco se anda lejos, little by little, you go far. And every contribution counts. There is no contribution that is too small to matter. For parents, the simple act of asking, did you do your homework today? Is making you an active person, an active force in their education.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: What about responding to that challenge, the challenge -- just so much going on, world seems so much faster?

MARTHA SERRANO: I think we can use the technology to help them. Provide a program -- together with the school, partnership, and it is a great program. It is like a game. They come and they can learn math, science, writing, reading, and you can use the technology to your favor. All of the things that we have to push them. But we have to be responsible and the parents have to be there. If the parents left the computer and iPads to the kids -- I think it is the wrong thing that they can do. It is how the kids can learn with the technology and they're more smart than us because they're born with a chip.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Technology, challenge of that?

SUSAN SERIN: Technology is a challenge. Because students have their iPad, their iPhone, all of that, they come in, and we do have technology in the school. We have the computers, smart boards, things to engage the students. It may not be everything that we would like to have. We would like to have a little more resource, but it is there. And I think one other thing for the student engagement, it's feeling valued in the schools. We can have all of the technology, all of the textbooks that we want, but it is the principal, assistant principal, teachers, and every staff member making those students feel wanted when they come on our campuses.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Your thoughts?

LILY MATOS DEBLIEUX: You know, there is always challenges when you have anything new and different and certainly technology is out there. But learning and being respectful is not exclusive to any generation. It is going to take that partnership to teach them respect, and to work together with the schools, but also it is going to take highly qualified teachers, which are hard to find these days because such a shortage to work with us, and whether it is technology or paper, pencil, as long as we have the partnership between the parent and teacher and that respect, we can teach students anything and they can learn anything.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Brief answer for all of you as we close, when I think about people at this table, you have all been so positive and optimistic about this because you're all dedicated to this. What does it take to overcome, if those are pessimistic about this, to show that it can be done if people work together like this?

LILY MATOS DEBLIEUX: They need to come visit our schools, talk to our students, know the belief we have and the potential of our fabulous students, come to the community breakfast, community cabinets, meet with the superintendent, board members, with the parents, get the knowledge and trust me, once they're there they're going to fall in love with our kids and our schools and they're going to understand the positivity that we have and passion that we have for our students.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Very briefly I want to hear from the parents again.

KIMLI GARBER: I agree with that completely. Once you get into the classroom, you see all of the support it takes to run a school, unsung heroes that are running the education system, and you do fall in love. You fall in love and you gain a profound respect for it.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: 20 seconds.

MARTHA SERRANO: When you are close with all of the principals and teachers and you know what they need, you work with them together and the kids are the benefit.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: One form of education leads to another form of education. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

KIMLI GARBER: Thank you very much.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Thursday on "Arizona Horizon," Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton makes his monthly appearance to talk about current issues regarding the state's largest city. Author from a new book on Jack Pfister, water official whose influence went far beyond water issue. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." We hope you have a great evening.

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Helios Education Foundation is proud to underwrite Arizona education, 12 month series highlighting the issues affecting college and career readiness for our students.

Susan Serin: Pendergast Governing Board President, Martha Serrano: PTA Member, Lily Matos DeBlieux: Pendergast School District Superintendent

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