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Parental Involvement Goes High-Tech

by Anna Cearley and Andrea Bennett
Parental Involvement Goes High-Tech
Fifth-grade teacher Brooke Henderson, whose Literacy First Charter School has implemented technology in ways that have increased involvement from parents

Despite assumptions to the contrary, the use of technology in schools to engage parents in students’ education can be a highly effective tool – even with language differences, lower education levels, inflexible work schedules and socioeconomic disparities.

Jan Vanderpool, a recent USC Rossier School of Education Ed.D. graduate, found several inexpensive and easy-to-implement ways some charter schools use technology to connect even the least computer savvy parent to their child’s educational experience.

“I saw that most of the innovation was taking place at charters because they don’t have the same levels of bureaucracy to get things into place,” said Vanderpool, who also runs a technology equity program called Bridge Over Digital Divide.

Vanderpool’s dissertation on “best practices” in the use of technology to increase parent involvement are based on his research of two Southern California schools – Ivy Academia in Woodland Hills and Literacy First Charter School in El Cajon.

His findings suggest the implementation of e-newsletters, prerecorded telephone messages and even real-time video of students on campus online were effective in engaging parents and highly accessible to all levels of technological proficiency.

At Ivy Academia, the school posted cameras on certain sections of the campus as a way of providing security. Over time, however, the school also saw the cameras as an opportunity to help parents feel more connected to the school.

Parents now have the option to watch the school campus via the Internet. The cameras have been placed in parts of the school where students typically congregate, such as hallways, the library and the back of the school. Parents have viewing access to some, but not all, of those locations.

“When they were installed, the school wasn’t thinking of this as being a tool for parent comfort, which is how it has evolved in terms of making them feel more connected to the school and knowing that their children are safe,” Vanderpool said.

In addition, the Woodland Hills school sends out a specially formatted e-newsletter that allows the school to determine which topics are of most interest to the parents based upon the links that the parents click on. This assists the school in tailoring the newsletter to contain information about which parents are most interested in reading.

Literacy First Charter School also has included Arabic translations for its e-newsletter since a large number of its students are from Iraq, according to Vanderpool.

Both Ivy Academia and Literacy First Charter School use a prerecorded telephone system so teachers can create a bank of messages that reflect possible reasons to contact parents, such as when their child hasn’t shown up for class. But the school also included messages that have a more positive connotation so that teachers can call parents if their child had a particularly good learning experience that day.

At Literacy First Charter School, teachers have their own Web sites that include assignments, attendance statistics and homework lists. This allows parents to connect with teachers and see how their children are doing. Ivy Academia has a service that provides online grading and portfolio management for students.

Parents are given how-to “cheat sheets” for the technological tools as well as a phone number for questions. The schools offer computers to families without technology at home through a lottery system.

Priscilla Wohlstetter, director of the USC-based Center on Educational Governance, said the examples show how technology can be harnessed to encourage greater parental involvement, which translates into higher student achievement.

“Charter schools have taken the lead in seeking out new technological tools that can enhance educational experiences,” she said. “The examples documented in this study can serve as a model for other charter and traditional schools to incorporate as they also search for ways to keep parents engaged and involved with student education.”

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