Parent, Family, and Community Involvement in the
Middle Grades. ERIC Digest.
by Rutherford, Barry - Billig, Shelley H.
A research project that was focused on family and community involvement
in comprehensive districtwide programs, school restructuring, and adult
and child learning programs in the middle grades provided an opportunity
to examine nine local sites that presented unique challenges for family
and community involvement. Two central questions were explored at all sites.
First, how do schools and districts involve families and the community
as partners in education reform? Second, how do schools and districts create
partnerships that acknowledge the roles of the family, school, and community
in the growth of the child, and how do these systems interact? By synthesizing
findings across all nine sites, researchers developed a set of eight "lessons"
which enrich our understanding of the critical and complex nature of school-family
partnerships in the middle grades.
LESSON 1: THE STAKES ARE HIGH AND IMMEDIATE FOR EVERYONE IN THE MIDDLE
GRADES. In the middle grades, students make personal and educational decisions
with serious consequences. They wrestle with issues of authority, independence,
changing family relationships, and increased visibility in the community,
all of which require that students practice social skills for community
participation. These challenges, coupled with the perception that the middle-grade
years are a watershed time for young adolescents, create a compelling case
for the critical importance of the middle grades.
IMPLICATIONS. Schools can create programs that respond to the unique
needs of middle-grade students and their families. Communities can publicize
positive reports about and provide positive interventions for middle-grade
students. Families can engage middle-grade children in active decision
making. In Fort Worth, for example, the Vital Link program places sixth-graders
in more than 140 businesses for several hours each morning during a one-week
internship. The goal is to understand career opportunities in a variety
of fields through hands-on experience.
LESSON 2: CHALLENGES CAN BECOME OPPORTUNITIES FOR PARENT AND FAMILY
INVOLVEMENT. In addition to coping with the physical and emotional changes
of adolescence, middle-grade students and their families must also deal
with changes in the way schools operate. Communication patterns change;
the student's day is fragmented, with more teachers, subjects, and extracurricular
IMPLICATIONS. Schools can create structures that decrease the fragmentation
of the school day; provide parents with strategies to support the academic
success of their middle-grade students; and make available specific educational
opportunities geared to the special interests of middle-grade families.
Families can serve as advocates and resources for middle-grade children.
Restructuring in Shelburne, Vermont, has focused on organizing elementary
and middle grades into a nine-year system, divided into three-year "communities,"
making it more likely that students will learn necessary social skills
and parents will find middle school welcoming.
LESSON 3: RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE ESSENCE OF MIDDLE-GRADE FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
INVOLVEMENT. Schools and communities are ideal contexts for developing
and fostering strong relationships with the families of middle-grade students.
One-on-one communication between families and teachers, the addition of
school personnel to deal with family issues, and community contact with
students in their roles as consumers and workers help to build support
for middle-grade schools.
IMPLICATIONS. Schools can encourage direct contact between middle-grade
families and teachers and can create staffing patterns that support these
relationships. Communities can take advantage of middle-school students'
relationships with local businesses (as workers and consumers) to make
supportive community connections. Families can be encouraged to build personal
relationships with school staff.
LESSON 4: RESPONSIBILITY AND DECISION MAKING ARE SHARED BY A BROAD ARRAY
OF PLAYERS, INCLUDING THE CHILD. Just as adolescents' roles change during
the middle grades, so do their responsibilities and decision-making strategies.
School, home, and community are all places where middle-graders learn and
are actively involved in positive or negative ways. Teachers, counselors,
social service personnel, business-people, families, and students themselves
can and should share responsibility and decision making with regards to
the curriculum and the delivery of instruction. The challenge for middle-grade
schools comes in coordinating information and efforts across a broad range
IMPLICATIONS. Schools need to include middle-grade families, teachers,
and students in decisions about curriculum and instruction; involve families
and students in conferences about course-work and individual progress;
and coordinate information from the school to ensure smooth communications.
Families need to understand school policies and expectations to act as
advocates and supporters of middle-grade students.
LESSON 5: SUSTAINED PARENT, FAMILY, AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT DEPEND
ON ACTIVE ADVOCACY BY LEADERS. Leadership in the school and community plays
a key role in fostering parent, family, and community involvement. Leaders
set the tone for involvement, make it a priority, and provide the context
that enables school personnel, families, community members, and businesspeople
to maintain an active role in middle-grades education.
IMPLICATIONS. Schools need to look for a whole array of community connections;
use creative approaches in defining leadership, designing programs, and
solving problems; and provide a climate for success that includes making
available fiscal and human resources. Communities should take an active
role in making connections with schools. Families can represent the interests
of middle-grade children, and they can use community connections to advocate
for the school. The principal at Barret Traditional Middle School in Louisville,
Kentucky, for example, views his leadership as going beyond the boundaries
of the school and into the community.
LESSON 6: A SYSTEM OF SUPPORTS FOR FRONT-LINE WORKERS IS CRITICAL TO
PARENT AND FAMILY INVOLVEMENT. Frontline workers--teachers and other school
personnel--are key players in family involvement. Through these frontline
workers families are connected to the services provided by the school or
community. They need professional development, the ability and authority
to make decisions about services to address family needs, structures that
provide the workers themselves with social and emotional support, and other
IMPLICATIONS. Schools can provide professional development on promising
practices and family involvement programs; empower frontline workers to
make key decisions that connect middle-grade families with needed services;
create structures that provide social and emotional support for frontline
workers; and design support systems that outline expectations and give
frontline workers resources for family involvement. The Kentucky Education
Reform Act mandates "Youth Service Centers" in middle schools serving economically
disadvantaged students. A wide range of services are available through
local agencies there.
LESSON 7: FAMILIES NEED CONNECTIONS TO THE CURRICULUM. In the middle
grades, multiple teachers, the increasing complexity of course content,
and students' growing need for autonomy tend to weaken the tie between
parents and the curriculum that existed in elementary school. Families
may find that the ways in which they are involved will undergo fundamental
change during the middle-grade years.
IMPLICATIONS. Schools need to engage families in meaningful home learning
tasks; demonstrate ways for families to work with middle-grade students;
and use the content and characteristics of middle-school learning experiences
as starting points for family connections. Families need to create an environment
that values and promotes achievement and communicate with the school and
teachers about what is being taught and their child's progress. Community
District 3 in New York City provides families with home learning "kits"
that reinforce instruction; Parent Center staff in Natchez, Mississippi,
demonstrate materials and activities that families can use to work with
their children at home.
LESSON 8: SCHOOLS NEED CONNECTIONS TO THE COMMUNITY. The geographic
areas served by a school broadens in the middle grades. Middle school is
often located at a greater distance from a student's "home" community;
school attendance areas often draw students from several different communities.
In defining their own "community," schools must recognize the unique strengths
of diverse, multiethnic, and multiracial school populations in both rural
and urban settings. They must implement strategies to provide multiple
opportunities for the larger community to be involved in the middle grades.
IMPLICATIONS. Schools need to acknowledge the unique characteristics
of the school community; design programs to build on its strengths; seek
opportunities to invite the community to participate in school activities;
and use a variety of strategies to communicate directly with the community.
Communities must take an active role in school decision making. And families
must find a variety of ways to participate and adopt new roles for participation.
Project REACH at Beck Middle School in Georgetown, South Carolina, uses
community members as instructional resources.
These eight lessons and accompanying examples illustrate some of the
ways in which districts and middle-grade schools engage families and the
community. These partnerships go beyond information exchange to foster
school change and the creation of relationships that contribute to student
success. Adapted from: Rutherford, Barry, and Shelley H. Billig. (1995).
Eight Lessons of Parent, Family and Community Involvement in the Middle
Grades. PHI DELTA KAPPAN, 77(1, Sept.), 64-68. Adapted with permission
of PHI DELTA KAPPAN.
Epstein, Joyce L., and Douglas J. MacIver. (1990). EDUCATION
IN THE MIDDLE GRADES: OVERVIEW OF NATIONAL PRACTICES AND TRENDS. Baltimore,
MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research on
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Henderson, Anne T., and Nancy Berla. (1994). A NEW GENERATION OF EVIDENCE:
THE FAMILY IS CRITICAL TO STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT. Washington, DC: National
Committee for Citizens in Education. ED 375 968.
Rutherford, Barry, and RMC Research Corporation staff. (1995). FINAL
TECHNICAL RESEARCH REPORT. VOL. I: FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS. Denver: RMC
Rutherford, Barry, and RMC Research Corporation staff. (1995). FINAL
TECHNICAL RESEARCH REPORT. VOL II: CASE STUDIES. Denver: RMC Research Corporation.
STRONG FAMILIES, STRONG SCHOOLS: BUILDING COMMUNITY
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