Parent-School Relationships as an Educational Resource
Elementary schools across the country implement programs intended to encourage parents to take action to facilitate their children's learning. This brief discusses new ways of understanding how parents interact with the school community and the factors that influence those interactions. Most educators and researchers believe that the greatest benefits to a child's education occur when parents proactively engage with school practices. The limited research on Spanish-speaking immigrant communities suggests that they are somewhat isolated and face barriers to full participation in the school system. We offer a multidimensional view of parental participation based on a study of public school parents – many of whom are Spanish speakers – in Lawrence, Massachusetts. We found that parents interacted with the school community along three distinct dimensions: they responded to requests for school involvement, proactively pursued school engagement, and formed a sense of community with other classroom parents. Sense of community is frequently overlooked as a means through which parents support their school-age children. In our study, families for whom Spanish appeared to be the dominant language reported the highest sense of community. These findings not only challenge the idea that these families are isolated, they suggest that the strong sense of community among the Spanish-speaking, immigrant, and migrant communities represents a resource that could be tapped to further improve the effectiveness of the public schools.