One of the elements that is so exciting about a racially and socioeconomically diverse school is the community connections that can be created there, first among students and second among parents. These connections can lead to friendship, sharing information, supporting with child care and even leads on jobs.

Suder Montessori School, Chicago, IL

While children spend a lot of time socializing together, it can be harder to figure out how to make meaningful connections among the parents. Below are some suggestions I share from the book and that I’ve learned in community conversations with public Montessori schools.

Here is the link for best practices on creating and maintaining diverse schools through student enrollment.

Strategy/Vision

  • Consider as a school community – why do we want parent engagement? What do we want it for?
  • Gather a focus group of parents to give feedback on current parent engagement and help create a plan for how to improve. Is the school welcoming? If not, why not? (Britt Hawthorne)
  • Survey parents each year to find out how they would like to engage with the school – when can they come? What events would they like to attend? (Britt Hawthorne)
  • How are we measuring parent engagement? Can we expand it beyond who is attending events and PTA meetings to the “invisible work” many parents are doing to support their children – creating a study space, helping with homework, etc? (Britt Hawthorne)

Building community among parents

  • Schedule informal gatherings at playgrounds before school starts and during the year to let parents and children get to know each other. If parents are coming from a wide geographic area, vary these locations so that they are convenient to different groups of families.
  • Have parents complete a nametag at every event with their name, their teacher’s name and the age of their child (Garden Oaks Montessori)
  • Schedule 15 minutes at the start of each event for parent networking/community building – ask parents to circulate 3-5 minutes at a time, talking to different parents. They might find other parents with same-age children, by similar interests, geographical area, etc. (Garden Oaks Montessori)
  • If families give their permission, publish an annual family directory to enable families to be in touch with each other
  • Establish clear guidelines in the school handbook that birthday invitations delivered at school should include all students in the class

PTA Leadership

  • Make PTA membership fee voluntary
  • Hold PTA meetings at different times of day to support different work schedules, offer a morning and evening meeting
  • Offer childcare and dinner at parent gatherings
  • Offer translators at parent gatherings (Garden Oaks Montessori)
  • Create a carpool signup to offer rides to families without transportation
  • Focus PTA meetings around community building, instead of moving directly to fundraising and event-planning
  • Livestream/Facebook Live meetings (Garden Oaks Montessori)
  • Spend time at the start of the year focusing on big picture questions
    • What is the PTA, what can it do?
    • How can it support the needs of all of the students, rather than just some of the students?
    • How can it help the most vulnerable families at the school?
    • How can it build community among parents?
  • Require PTA leadership to take an anti-racism or implicit bias training, and training to develop as leaders
  • Create provisions in PTO by-laws to ensure PTA leadership reflects the diversity of the school population
  • Create an anti-bias anti-racist sub-group of the PTA to carry this work forward, and to hold the broader group accountable
  • Create a pipeline of parent volunteers through smaller responsibilities – room parent, one-off helping
  • Consider – is your PTA’s organizational structure and volunteer expectation deterring others from volunteering? Can you simplify your organization? Can you minimize the leadership expectation?
  • Establish clear communication guidelines regarding decision-making among PTA leadership – does email work for everyone, or do people prefer text messages or in-person decision-making? Whether people have access to a computer for their jobs will often determine their ability to be online during the day.
  • Consider offering computer access at school, so that parents without technology are not barred from participating
  • Create a binder to collect information that is shared from one PTA group to the following cohort

School events & after-school enrichment

  • Include a planning question in each event “How will this event be accessible to all families at the school?”
  • Require each flyer going home to communicate how this event will be accessible to all families (eg. fee-waiver, transportation, no requirement to pay money to participate in a fundraising activity, etc.)
  • Events where students perform or present consistently draw the largest crowds. How can you build relationships between parents as well during these events?
  • For older students (upper-elementary, middle school) – plan a social event where parents do one activity, students do another.
  • Consider, does this event support the broader school mission?
  • For best attendance at parent/caregiver events, plan a family-friendly activity. These events can also include a student performance, general updates, parent education, etc.
  • Request a suggested contribution instead of requiring a ticket price/registration fee
  • Provide bus transportation home for children staying after school for activities

Advocacy/Equity

  • Start a book-club with parents or with teachers focused on equity. They could read a chapter from Diverse Families (Ch 6 perhaps), or other books about educational equity.
  • Be in contact with other schools in your district. Consider how the funds raised at your school compare with those raised at other schools.
  • Advocate for a combined district PTA budget.
  • Advocate for increased public funding for all early childhood students, starting as young as possible
  • Advocate for well-planned and intentional urban renewal plans, including mixed-income housing and affordable units.
  • Advocate for greater support/mandates in federal, state and local policy to promote racially and socioeconomically diverse schools.