Collaborative efforts between parent advocates and schools create the best results, parents should seek out ways to make themselves available as a valuable asset to teachers and administrators to increase advocate effectiveness. That’s why parent advocacy works best with a collaborative approach. But how do you strike the ideal balance, and how beneficial is parent involvement in education?
Knowing what it means to advocate and develop advocacy skills helps to prevent and resolve conflicts. Parents who learn good communication skills and make teachers their allies are the most effective advocates. Research shows that kids fare better when one or both parents get involved with their education. Moreover, parent advocacy helps stimulate a child’s social, emotional, and academic growth.
This article looks at how every caring and involved parent can support student education. It looks at all areas of help, not only booster club fundraising events for special programs. But first, a look at the recent US policy changes around family-school partnerships.
Policy Changes Around Family-School Partnerships
It’s vital to have effective guidance to help build strong, meaningful partnerships between student families, educators, and schools. A 2022 survey by the National PTA found that US families see real value in family engagement at their child’s schools. However, they also thought there was room for improvement in how schools engaged families.
The parent participants thought that schools could offer more by way of:
- Reaching out to all families
- Educating families on family-school engagement policies
- Inform of opportunities already in place
- Provide families with professional support and resources
The new standards are based on survey feedback. They apply to board members, state education agencies, principals, educators, district officials, and parent leaders. Each of the above has proactive roles to play for the benefit of all parties.
This collaboration of bodies will enhance and strengthen family-school partnerships by:
- Welcoming all families
- Communicating more effectively
- Support student success
- Speak up for every child
- Share power to improve cooperation within communities
The new family-school partnership will significantly impact every student, their families, and schools. Thus, the PTA urges all schools and districts to implement their guidelines .
Parent Advocacy, More Than Fundraising
One of the first things people think about when they hear student advocacy is fundraising campaigns. Of course, charity events and donations are critical for nonprofit organizations like booster clubs. But by providing the means for institutions to ensure a better education experience, student advocates can do much more. Organizations use advocacy in multiple ways to raise awareness, rally support, and create real change.
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How Family-School Partnerships Help Parents Advocate
All parent-teacher and family-school partnerships advocate for the welfare of students. However, we often view the focus of a parent booster club as much narrower. Its efforts go primarily into raising funds for extracurricular school activities that apply to a minority of student participants. While parent-teacher groups like PTAs and PTOs directly support the school community and encourage parents to get more involved in their child’s education. In every case, the focus is on the adults supporting kids.
Regardless of what type of parent-teacher group you participate in, there is a greater opportunity to work together with your school’s administration. Collectively, you can create a higher level of student education and personal well-being that will help them develop into better, more well-rounded adults.
Why Parent Advocacy Matters
Advocacy matters as it gives a voice to those who face considerable obstacles inside and outside school. The advocate’s mission is to provide all learners with the necessary support and resources needed to succeed as a student.
The idea is to prevent any student from being left behind in their education journey due to financial status, socio-economic status, or home-life situation. Family-school advocacy empowers all students with critical services to meet each learner’s unique educational needs. That means the resources and levels of education that foster these five tenets:
- Proper learning
- Critical thinking
As a student advocate, your job is to assist struggling students in ways that help them transition to adulthood successfully. That could be support through school subject tutoring, social skills development, or to offer basic necessities like food and clothing.
Successful advocacy hinges on identifying and assisting students with academic and personal issues that may otherwise hold them back.
What Makes a Good Parent Advocate?
Success as a parent advocate starts with having the knowledge and skills to advocate effectively on a student’s behalf. Therefore, character traits such as patience and perseverance are helpful. Some people are naturals, while others need a little practice to become effective. If you find yourself struggling as an advocate due to time or ability, the assistance of a close friend, teacher, or social or youth worker, may be helpful.
The same key features apply to whoever the advocate may be and include:
- Stay mindful of a student’s rights
- Help them access needed resources and information
- Act specifically on the issues agreed to
- Avoid influencing student decisions with your personal opinion
- Stay vigilant against your unconscious biases
- Never share personally identifiable information about a student
- Review and adhere to your local parent advocacy laws
- Don’t pressure a student to do anything they don’t want to do
Parent Advocacy for Students in Need
Parental advocacy aims to support all students at every level of need. But there’s an emphasis on the disadvantaged as they’re the ones who will benefit most from your advocacy. Family-school partnerships and adult advocacy are powerful forces for leveling the playing field. Student needs in the US can take on many forms, but let’s look at the most pressing issues.
Food insecurity is a growing concern in the US, especially among households with school-age children. A recent study across 11 states found that 10.8% of American homes were food insecure. In addition, these students were more prone to mental health issues and suicidal thoughts/tendencies. But there was no difference among food insecurity effects across student race/ethnicity or sex .
Many schools offer free or reduced-price meals in their cafeterias. But that doesn’t solve household food scarcity. Your parent-teacher group may want to help further by organizing after-school grab-and-go meals to take home or by contributing to local food banks.
Inadequate Winter Clothing
Poverty has a detrimental impact on a child’s academic achievement. Currently, 11% of Americans live in poverty without reliable access to basic necessities. One of the effects of that is a lack of adequate winter clothing to keep warm. Cold weather can be hazardous for children and youths as their bodies do not thermoregulate as efficiently as adults.
Severe cold increases stress on young hearts and the risk of hypothermia and infections like pneumonia. Cold weather compounded by improper clothing makes students uncomfortable, so many don’t attend school  .
One solution is for parent-teacher groups to create pick up bins placed around the school. They can contain warm winter clothing for students in need. Struggling families can stop by or discretely request the items be delivered. Pick up bins can also be used to collect always-in-need items such as non-perishable foods, toiletries, and other essentials.
Lack of School Supplies
The rising cost of school supplies can pose a significant challenge to many parents. However, parent-teacher groups can work with schools to devise programs encouraging student families to pool supplies and deliver them to the teachers in need.
For instance, each class has marked boxes of essential supplies that students dip into as needed. Examples are pencils, note paper, rulers, calculators, glue sticks, etc. The students return those supplies to the boxes after the lesson to be available for the next class. Larger supplies that are best owned rather than loaned can be requisitioned and delivered to students as needed. Such items may include binders, backpacks, and notebooks.
Groups like booster clubs can advocate for students by working with coaches and extracurricular teachers to donate uniforms, athletic wear, equipment, instrument rentals, etc.
Parent Advocacy Helps Level the Playing Field
Solid guidance from parents strengthens families and promotes child well-being. And engaging parents in school advocacy spaces help create more equity and inclusive education. With all stakeholders in a circle, great things come to pass. It becomes easier to shape programs and policies that create equal opportunities and growth potential for all.
This section gives examples of how parent advocacy helps to level the playing field.
After-school activities provide huge benefits for students of all ages. They are fun and educational and offer a safe environment after the day’s final bell has rung.
After-school programming keeps students off the street and out of harm’s way in the gap between the end of school and the working day. Parent-teacher groups such as booster clubs, PTOs, and PTAs should be strong advocates and supporters of after-school programs to help students be safe and happy.
Parents with the time to be involved should consider volunteering for activities such as field trips, after-school enrichment clubs, low-cost or free tutoring, talent shows, etc. Schools may also encourage parent groups to get involved in extracurricular decision-making processes. These things help build meaningful connections and long-term partnerships between schools and student families.
Teachers who encourage parent engagement notice five positive effects in students:
- Better classroom behavior 
- Higher grades and improved standardized test scores 
- Student exhibit higher motivation 
- Improved confidence and fewer mental health issues 
- Reduction in students disciplined 
Create Safe Spaces for Students
Safe spaces are supportive, non-threatening environments for at-risk school students. These areas help protect kids from bullying, domestic violence, and other serious threats. For example, they reduce the risks of kidnapping, child abuse, sexual assault, and involvement with gang activity. Moreover, secure environments encourage kids to express themselves and participate without fear of judgment or reprisal.
So, vulnerable students get to calm down, relieve stress, open up, and recharge emotions in safe spaces. And that, in turn, supports their social-emotional learning .
Parents can advocate for students by assisting them with homework. They can also give targeted tutoring to a struggling child using resources provided by school teachers. Students whose parents engage with them at the educational level do better in school than those who get no parental help. Research shows that the higher the parental involvement, the more academic success the student achieves .
Support LGTBQ+ Students
Parents of LGBTQ+ students can advocate for an active gay-straight alliance (GSA) presence in the school. GSA helps make schools safer and more comfortable learning environments. And that contributes to enhanced academic performance. In addition, teachers may encourage parents to contact them if they need to discuss issues of concern.
Plus, as a parent, you have a significant voice in the school system, so never hesitate to speak up on behalf of your child and their LGTBQ+ peers .
Other ways parents and teachers can work together are:
- Create and publicize safe spaces or zones
- Start a school LGBTQ organization
- Discuss ways to integrate LGBTQ+ topics into the school’s process and curriculum
Schools should be safe, welcoming environments for all. Together, parents and teachers can support LGBTQ+ students by acting as advocates for their health and happiness by embracing the methods above.
Life Skills Development
Parents should play a pivotal role in their child’s development, including teaching life skills. But schools should also offer the opportunity for students to learn life skills that will help them become successful adults.
The area of life skills development offers a significant opportunity for schools and parents to collaborate. Possessing life skills helps create happy, self-sufficient, successful individuals. So, parents have a chance to share their own knowledge, life experience, and areas of professional expertise. In addition to after-school programming, you can advocate for your school to help sponsor a job shadowing day. This will help students learn about professional fields they may be interested in pursuing.
Together parents and teachers can better advocate for students and prepare them for success beyond traditional school subjects.
School Violence Prevention
Schools do their best to keep facilities and students safe. But it can be difficult between shrinking budgets and growing class sizes to keep eyes on all places and students at all times. Parents can help advocate to prevent school violence by sharing what they see and what they hear.
So, keep an eye out for students that stick out in parent-teacher group events, fundraisers, sports events, etc. Please make an effort to recognize struggling students and find avenues to help them.
Discuss your child’s school situation, not just what immediately affects them. For example, do they know someone being teased or bullied at school or online? Are there any students who are struggling socially or loners? Working together with your school’s administration and teachers, you can share information and help identify students who may need help.
Issues of concern may go beyond bullying to more tragic situations such as suicide and gun violence. Early identification, intervention, and advocacy can help struggling students before a tragedy occurs. It will give them the support they need to find a sense of self-love and wellness before hurting themselves or others.
Teachers can help educate parents about threat assessments and other prevention measures. Work with your school personnel and administration to send out information and reminders on topics like gun security and identifying suicidal tendencies. Also, encourage open, honest communication with your child about their physical and mental well-being.
Final Thoughts on Parent Advocacy
Parental advocacy benefits students, the educational system, and the broader community. Studies show that student academic performance improves when parents, teachers, and school staff work together.
And remember, family-school partnerships are not only for the privileged. They improve all students’ health, safety, well-being, and educational development. That’s regardless of status, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
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- https://acamh.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/Improved-confidence-mental health/
- https://digitalcommons.nl.edu/benefits-of-supportive spaces-in-schools/