Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Home-School Relationships: A Qualitative Study with Diverse Families

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Home-School Relationships: A Qualitative Study with Diverse Families

Article excerpt

It is well-recognized that the foundation of children's development and learning depends upon the inter-contextual nature of relationships between families and schools (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Lightfoot, 1978). Both systems share the responsibility for helping children acquire knowledge and develop lifelong skills in order to live successfully in society (Coleman, 1997). Family involvement in children's education is not a new concept and has long been a topic of interest among researchers, professionals working with families, and educators at all levels. A growing body of research indicates family involvement with schools results in mutually beneficial outcomes (Baker & Stevenson, 1986; Castro, Bryant, Peisner-Feinberg, & Skinner, 2004; Connors & Epstein, 1995; Epstein, 2001). Further, Patrikakou, Weissberg, Redding, and Walberg (2005) documented that young children's potential to excel depends on the environment in which they learn and the interconnections they develop within these settings.

The current study is consistent with the National Standards for School Counseling Program's goal of providing research-based interventions to enhance students' personal/social outcomes (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2005). Although research related to home-school interconnections takes into account the importance of positive relationships between these two systems, little indication of how the alliances might be built, supported, and sustained over time exists (Lightfoot, 2003).

Defining Family Involvement

One definition of family involvement is addressed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Standards stressing the importance of relationship between families and programs to enhance child development have been established. According to NAEYC (2010):

   Developmentally appropriate practices occur within a context that
   supports the development of relationships between adults and
   children, among children, among teachers, and between teachers and
   families. Such a community reflects what is known about the social
   construction of knowledge and the importance of establishing a
   caring, inclusive community in which all children can develop and
   learn. (p. 16)

Studies on families and their interactions with schools are often focused on mainstream family units and their participation in school activities (Dunn & Norris, 2001; Hara & Burke, 1998; Reynolds, 1991). Lawson (2003) reports these inquiries have used a school-based definition, which may not be the same as diverse families' definitions or perceptions of family involvement. Consequently, the voices of minority families have not been reflected in these investigations. This contention is also supported by Mann (2006) who found that diverse families have different perceptions of family involvement with schools compared to many teachers and administrators. According to Epstein (1992) and Swick (1997), family members representing a minority population are rarely consulted on important issues regarding their child's education. Epstein and Becker (1982), Lipman (1997), and Shunow and Harris (2000) have given voice to teachers' conceptions on home-school relationships; however, the meanings and practices related to school involvement of diverse families have not been sufficiently studied.

A challenge for professionals working with diverse children and their families is to honor different perspectives as legitimate. Gonzalez-Mena (1997) stated "understanding cultural differences is a subject that goes far beyond what holidays people celebrate and what foods they eat" (p. 11). Cultural continuity in school settings is critical to help children develop an authentic sense of self, which can provide them with a framework to understand who they are in their cultural setting (Brazelton & Greenspan, 2000). Counselors and educators working with diverse families may need to recognize the cultural background that shapes home-school relationships. …

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