by Molly Farmer
SALT LAKE CITY — When Liz Holloran asks one boy in her classroom why he does so well on tests, or why he’s so responsible at studying and homework, she always gets the same answer: “My Mom.”
Holloran, a fifth grade honors teacher at Westland Elementary, sees first-hand how important parental involvement is in producing successful children — a topic one Utah senator is planning to take on during the 2012 Legislative session.
Parents and communities — not just schools and teachers — have a responsibility to educate children, according to Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay. The assistant minority whip is drafting a resolution that would encourage parental engagement in hopes of highlighting her belief that it takes a community to truly educate a child.
“One of the common things that I hear (from teachers) is parents really are not taking the responsibility that they should be taking,” Jones said. “We need to engage parents and the community in getting them involved.”
That includes adequately preparing students for kindergarten, helping them with homework, reading aloud to them, volunteering in the classroom and more. She said her resolution is based in part on studies that show schools with active Parent Teacher Associations have higher student achievement than those who don’t.
Margaret Wahlstrom, spokeswoman for the Utah PTA, said her organization definitely supports the message of the resolution, but has not taken a formal position since it isn’t completed and filed.
“If the whole family is committed to the education of the children, there are beacoup studies that show students are more successful,” Wahlstrom said. “It’s just a win for everybody. … It is a no-brainer.”
Holloran said parents, regardless of their work schedule, would benefit from knowing the positive impact they have by following through with their children at home.
“I get to teach those kids,” she said. “When they are inspired and when they are motivated … I’m a teacher now, I’m not a disciplinarian.”
Jones said it troubles her that so often schools and teachers are maligned when students fail, when parents shirk their responsibility at home while “letting the schools pick up the pieces.”
Jones said she understands the challenges parents face, especially since many work long hours, or have long commutes, leaving little time to spend with their children. In those situations, Jones said community members need to step in to help.
“(It’s about) extending their arms to other kids that might not have that parental support,” she said.
Teachers have to fulfill tertiary roles as stand-in school nurses or counselors in addition to providing instruction and need all the support they can get, she said.
Kory Holdaway, government affairs director at the Utah Education Association, said Jones’ effort is something teachers will get behind.
“When we have the number of students that are being put into classrooms as we do… it just stands to reason that the more support that we can offer in the classroom the better services we can provide,” Holdaway said.
Beyond being attentive at home, Holdaway said parent volunteers who help out in the classroom regularly mean a lot to teachers, who have taken on more responsibilities in the last 20 years. He said he’d like to see the number of parents who volunteer in secondary schools match the number who spend time in earlier years.
“There’s a good part of that that goes on in elementary schools but it begins to diminish when we get into junior high and high school,” he said. “I think we need to figure out a way to keep those parents engaged.”
Holloran said she’s seen how successful children can be when parents and teachers work together.
“You do need that parent piece,” she said. “It’s very difficult to legislate parenthood, though. People have to know for themselves.”