Massachusetts PIRC: Making a Difference for Families
By Janet Vohs, Director of Publications
Massachusetts Parent Information & Resource Center (PIRC)
The mission of the Massachusetts Parent Information and Resource Center (Mass PIRC) is to help families be active and effective partners in their children’s education, and to help schools become places where the contributions of all families are welcome. As part of our work, Mass PIRC provides technical assistance to targeted school districts throughout the state about ways to encourage and build parent-school partnerships. Here are some examples of how our work makes a difference for families at home, at school, and in the larger community.
Promoting Positive Behaviors through “High Fives”
Mass PIRC works with families and educators at the Francis M. Leahy Elementary School in Lawrence to build family-school partnerships. At a planning meeting, the attendees discussed “High Five,” a school initiative that rewards students’ positive behaviors based on five principles: Respect, Responsibility, Role Model, Readiness, and Relationships. The team wants to adapt the program to help parents use “High Five” at home. Parents will receive guidance on how to be appropriate role models for their children and how to recognize, emphasize and reward their children’s positive behaviors. “High Five” will unite parents and the school in an effort to support students’ positive behavior at home, at school, and in their communities.
Somali Families Become Part of the School Community
Somali families contribute a unique cultural and linguistic diversity to the Springfield Public Schools. However, cultural differences made it difficult for them to participate at their children’s schools. Many Somali families did not understand the structure and routines of American schools, and did not realize they had a right to voice their concerns. Many had been living in refugee camps and did not know about receiving and reading mail. In addition, most did not read English. As a result, the families did not respond to school notices. The schools thought the families’ lack of responses was a lack of interest.
To build understanding between families and the school, Mass PIRC consulted with the director of the Somali Center in Springfield. With his guidance, Mass PIRC met separately with the Somali families and then with the schools to hear from both sides. Then Mass PIRC facilitated a meeting with representatives from both groups. As a result, the school community realized they needed to provide more support to all their language groups, and has implemented measures to meet these needs. Now, feeling welcome and a sense of belonging, Somali families are eager participants in their children’s education and contributors to the Springfield school community.
A Learner Becomes a Leader
Mass PIRC has learned that even though parents may understand and speak some English, many lack the confidence to talk with their children’s teachers. To help build parents’ confidence, Mass PIRC offered ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at the Federation. Using Mass PIRC training materials, the classes focused on teaching families about education in the U.S.
Families learned that it is okay to have a voice in their children’s education, and that U.S. schools expect parents to participate. They learned words and terms that would help them participate, such as “accountability,” “curriculum,” “MCAS,” and “assessment.” Most important, they gained confidence as they participated in role-plays and conversations with each other.
One mother wrote, “As an immigrant, I didn’t know where to turn to understand the education system. In this class, I gained confidence and now communicate more effectively with educators. I also became aware of other people in the same situation as me.” Enthusiastic about her newfound sense of empowerment, this mother is taking advanced training at the Federation. She is eager to provide leadership and support to help other parents participate in their children’s education.
District Gains Strength through Diversity
Thanks in part to technical assistance from Mass PIRC, the Worcester Public Schools’ Citywide Parent Planning Advisory Council has greatly increased its membership and is more representative of the district’s diversity. Recently, nearly 200 family and community members from 41 of the city’s 44 schools came together to share their hopes and concerns with district leaders at a citywide Parent/Guardian Roundtable Forum. This unprecedented participation represented a cross-section of the city’s linguistic, racial and socio-economic diversity. For the first time, families, many of whom had never participated before, had a direct line of communication with district leaders.
Families were unanimous in their desire for an “engaging, well-rounded and high-quality education that prepares their children for success in college and career.” One district leader commented that what they learned would directly affect the future of the district, beginning immediately. All participants look forward to continuing the conversation.
For more information about Mass PIRC and ways we can support you, in your key role as a partner with schools to help ensure your child’s success, call 1-877-471-0980 or visit www.pplace.org.