Academic journal article School Community Journal

School Liaisons: Bridging the Gap between Home and School

Academic journal article School Community Journal

School Liaisons: Bridging the Gap between Home and School

Article excerpt

Abstract

Involving families in their children's education is not only a legal requirement in special education, it also predicts academic achievement, social and emotional development, and a variety of other positive school outcomes for all children. Unfortunately, school-home relationships often have been ignored or underdeveloped. Disconnections between home and school may be especially acute in urban areas where school personnel may not understand the culture of the students and families with whom they work. In the Indianapolis Public Schools, a large urban school district in the Midwest, efforts to better connect families and schools are occurring through the implementation of a school liaison program. The school district set out to deliberately create this program in order to bridge the gap between schools and families, with particular attention given to parents from diverse backgrounds with children who are receiving special education services. The initial intent was to allow participating families to drive the design of the program, and it appears that the district has been successful in achieving this objective. Program services and activities include conflict resolution, cultural brokering, direct support, and referral. The design of the school liaison program is described and the activities and skills of the liaisons are presented through the voices of the families that this program has served during its first year of operation.

Key Words: parents, family involvement, special education, liaisons

Introduction

An extensive research base that supports the involvement of families in their children's education is emerging. A growing number of studies confirm positive associations between parent involvement in schools and academic achievement, as well as with children's social and emotional development (Baker & Soden, 1997; Catcambis, 1998; Epstein, Clark, Salinas, & Sanders, 1997; Epstein & Sanders, 2000; Fan & Chen, 1999; Gutman & Midgley, 2000; Henderson, 1987; Izzo, Weissberg, Kasprow, & Fenrich, 1999; Jeynes, 2005; Shaver & Walls, 1998; Starkey & Klein, 2000; VanVoorhis, 2001; Westat, 2001). In urban settings, Jeynes contends that relationships between academic achievement and parent involvement hold across gender, race, socioeconomic status (SES), and academic ability of students; these positive relationships demonstrate statistical significance not only for overall academic ability, but also for GPA, standardized tests, and other academic measures (Jeynes). Given such findings, along with current pressures on schools (e.g., No Child Left Behind; U.S. Department of Education, 2001) to reduce achievement gaps and enhance the academic achievement of all students, it is important for public schools to actively seek and increase authentic forms of parental involvement. Cheney and Osher (1997) noted, "school districts will need to build structures that support teacher efforts to collaborate with each other and family members" (p. 5).

Unfortunately, teachers may not see school-home collaboration as a legitimate educational function. It is ironic, given the association between parent involvement and academic achievement, that educators do not spend more time building relationships with families. However, research demonstrates that teachers often lack professional preparation for working collaboratively with families and also view themselves as less competent in this area when compared to other professionals such as nurses and social workers (Bailey, Palsha, & Simeonsson, 1991). The lack of capacity for adequately preparing professionals in family collaborative models (Duchnowski, Kutash, & Friedman, 2002) may be especially acute for teacher preparation programs. For example, Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider, and Lopez (1997) examined teacher certification requirements across the United States and concluded that teacher certification standards did not place family involvement as a priority. …

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