In the last few months, all across the country, millions of students headed back to school. For many, this was a season of memorable experiences: having their fathers accompany them to their classrooms on the first day, pick them up from their first afterschool activity, and help them study for their first test. Activities like these highlight an important pillar of this Administration’s education agenda: encouraging caring adults – especially parents, and dads in particular – to take an interest in the academic performance of every child.
Family and parent engagement is a leading driver in students’ academic success. Research has linked meaningful family engagement to results like improved grades, higher achievement test scores, lower drop-out rates, increased confidence and ability to learn, and a stronger sense of the value of education. For these and many other reasons, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans supports opportunities for fathers, families and communities to engage with students throughout the school year.
Last December, the Department released a draft framework emphasizing the importance of building effective school, family and community partnerships to support learning and development for children. Created at the Department’s request by Dr. Karen Mapp, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this framework encourages schools and districts to include parents and families as partners in the learning process. The framework suggests strategies like professional development, effective communication, and engagement strategies directly tied to student learning, as ways to work meaningfully with families. And, this is a two-way partnership. It’s vital to equip districts, school leaders, teachers and school staff to work with families. It’s equally important for families to feel comfortable and welcome in their children’s schools, and to play an active role in supporting their academic success.
Individual students, whole schools, and entire communities benefit from stronger ties with families. When caring adults share in the responsibility for supporting students, these young people have more opportunities to develop a lifelong love for learning, and to sharpen the skills they need to succeed in school, graduate from college, and secure 21st century careers.
Fathers have a special role to play in the academic, social and emotional development of their children. Right from the start, involved fathers help shape the values and cognitive development of their babies. And, as children mature, fathers continue contributing to their overall social, emotional and academic development. In fact, the President of the United States has called being a father “the best job” he has. All fathers should feel confident about the great difference they can make in their children’s lives.
But, you don’t have to be a dad to make a difference. Mentoring is another facet of community engagement that should be celebrated, especially in minority communities. Mentors can complement or supplement the family support structure – and caring men can serve as father figures for children who might otherwise miss this positive, formative influence. If you want to help build a brighter future for the next generation, consider tutoring or mentoring children in your neighborhood. Help them find the resources, have the experiences, and build the skills they need to succeed.
Overall, there are a few things caring adults can do to help students during the school year. One of the most important things is to have a conversation with students about the relationship between their academic performance now, and their dreams and aspirations for the years ahead. Consider the following conversation starters:
- What are you looking forward to this school year?
- What are you hoping to accomplish?
- What do you think will distract you from accomplishing it?
- What worked well for you last school year?
- What do you need to do differently this year?
- How can I best support you?
With a caring adult in their corner, children are already off to a better start. Adults who care make the difference. Parents, including fathers, who take the time and make the investment in their children’s lives – and especially their education – contribute tremendously to the success of those children.
So, what are you including in your child’s school supplies?
Pencils and notebooks are good. But caring adults are even better.
For additional information on ways to support African American educational excellence throughout the year, please visit http://www.ed.gov/AfAmEducation and follow us on Twitter at @AfAmEducation.
David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The Initiative contributes to closing the achievement gap for African American students.