The health and wellness of our schools, according to Harmar Elementary School Principal Cheryl Cook, is directly tied to the quality of life in our communities. Cook and other leading educators agree on one factor that is critically important to the success of local schools parent involvement.
"Parents are the first teachers for a child, and really the best teachers," Cook said. "That's where children learn their first language and that's where they form their values. That parental responsibility of being a teacher does not go away when a child starts school."
Dottie Erb, chair of the education department at Marietta College, agrees, adding that parental involvement includes an awareness of the child's academic progress and is particularly important from kindergarten through third grade. "If issues aren't addressed in the primary grades, , they're going to be magnified as the child hits fourth grade. Reading and mathematics are the big areas where parents need to be sure that their child is meeting grade level expectations," Erb said. "If not, parents need to talk to the school about what the school is doing, and ask what they can do as parents to make a difference in their child's life."
Parents' involvement is equally critical in later grades, Belpre City Schools Superintendent Tony Dunn believes. "The level and type of involvement changes as kids grow and mature," Dunn said.
Despite the continued importance of parents' involvement in upper grades, Erb said that numbers of involved parents tend to drop off in middle school. "Parents feel like middle school children are able to take care of their own issues and their own education. In reality, that's not true," Erb said.
Erb, Cook, and Dunn agree that many parents struggle to remain involved in their child's education. Dunn said this may be a result of more parents working multiple jobs. "That puts a real challenge on parent involvement, because parents are busy earning a living to support the household," Dunn said.
Cook said another reason she often hears from parents about their lack of involvement is that they do not understand their student's work, or how to help their child. "Even if parents cannot help with math homework, there are so many things they can do to help their child build self-confidence and instill the joy of learning," Cook says. "They can help them learn to ride a bike, take a family nature walk, get a library card, or visit a museum. Simply asking a child what he or she is learning in school also encourages the child to do well."
"Everything that a child learns to do builds self-confidence. When they're willing to try new things, they bring that enthusiasm to school, and it makes a difference," Cook said.
Parents who are involved in their child's education ensure their child's academic success, which Erb defines as a student's readiness for college or a career at the time he or she finishes high school.
"Academic success makes a difference in a community because today's students are the people who are going to keep your community thriving," Erb said. "We want them to be successful and hopefully return to our community as productive citizens."
Cook agreed. "Some of the students are going to leave this area, but many are not. We need them to have the skills required to keep our community strong."
Erb claims that the gap is widening between students who come to school prepared by involved and engaged parents, and students who do not come prepared. Erb, Cook, and Dunn hope that Washington County parents lead their students to the higher side of this gap.
This Chamber Viewpoint is focused on education and its impact on our economic future. The Chamber Board developed an Education Committee to explore and explain the connection between Strong schools, prosperous businesses, and flourishing communities. Once a month the Marietta Chamber's Viewpoint column will highlight a specific area, with the articles written by a variety of people, who are in business or in the education system. This article was written by Marietta College student Sydney Maltese with assistance from Cheryl Cook, Dottie Erb and Tony Dunn.