Parent engagement is key to helping students make good decisions about their future and successfully achieve their dreams, particularly during students’ high school experiences.
But for me, parent engagement isn’t just about what I can do for my daughter. It’s also about what I can do to benefit all children.
My daughter Paulina and I moved to Washington from Mexico a few years ago. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand how the school system worked or what classes my daughter was enrolled in.
Parents need to be engaged, but they also need accessible information about their child’s education. From personal experience, I can tell you that remaining engaged in your child’s education isn’t possible when you’re struggling to understand complex, bureaucratic information in a foreign language.
As a result, while in high school, Paulina took Algebra 1 four times, despite earning good grades and passing the class each time she was enrolled. This fall, Paulina must enroll in remedial math classes at a community college to learn the math she didn’t learn in high school before she can apply to a four-year institution.
This experience galvanized me to get involved and advocate for all kids. I joined the League of Education Voters in July to testify before the State Board of Education in Spokane on the rules for Washington’s new college- and career-ready diploma as outlined in SB 6552.
Together with a group of more than 25 parents and community members, we successfully advocated that the board allow only students in unusual circumstances to waive up to two credits in non-core subject areas.
I testified because I wanted the board to hear about my daughter’s experience, but I also wanted to advocate on behalf of all Washington students who could have been left behind if the board had not voted in favor of academic rigor.
During the hearing, we also convinced the board that the views of a parent or guardian take precedence over school staff in selecting a student’s third year of math and science. Math and science are important courses, and parents must be engaged to help their children make critical decisions that will impact their academic future.
Finally, we successfully advocated to the board that when schools are requesting parental sign-off for a specific course, the request must be made, when possible, in the predominant language of the parent or guardian who speaks a language other than English. Given my experience with my daughter Paulina, I know this requirement will make a difference for many students and their families.
I applaud the State Board of Education for listening to me and the other parents who testified last month. I know that my voice — and my experience as a mother — was heard.
As policymakers and educators search for new ways to engage and involve parents in supporting their children’s education, it is important to remember the High School and Beyond Plan. The plan, a road map for a student’s post-secondary education or training and their career, should be developed beginning in middle school in order to help make sure students are prepared to complete high school and take the courses needed to succeed after high school.
For parents who want to be more involved in their children’s education but do not know where to start, there are resources out there, including a new nonprofit focused on exactly that — parent and family engagement. Parents should also look into their local PTA or contact their legislator directly with their concerns about education and parent engagement.
Maria Estrada is a former faculty member at the University of Colima and TecMilenio University in Mexico. She lives in Grandview, Wash. The above text was translated from Spanish by Micaela Razo, a community organizer for the League of Education Voters in Yakima.