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SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Should school volunteers get perks?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a heated debate taking place on whether the extra-involved parents at school should get preferential treatment. The specific debate here is on an involved parent requesting a specific teacher and expecting results because of her volunteer status.

Touch issue. Your thoughts?
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Back-to-School Starts When?

Kind of reminds me of Hallmark inventing new holidays to sell more cards, but... Staples has decided that yesterday was the "official start of the back-to-school shopping season."

What I really love is the idea that some carefully-calculated calculus went into the decision on the date. Kind of cracks me up. It's as good a date as any other, but I could have, you could have (and I'm sure Staples did) pick that date without 20 years of shopping trends data and interviews with parents nationwide.

Either way, it leads to a good question: when does the shopping mind-set start for you? We're still 7 weeks away for my kids (and still away on vacation -- which feels like the end of last school year, not the beginning of new), so I'm not there yet.

Are you?
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Vacation and School

So all 6 of us Sullivans are on vacation this week. We're at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont (America's Family Resort, they call it.) and -- despite rain today -- are having a great time.

After a year of typical parent and family craziness --arranging and re-arranging multiple schedules, school projects, work demands, kids' sports, more homework than ever -- vacation is providing a really unique insight into a year of school progress and growth. It seems that having this more quiet time provides the necessary perspective to assess how all that craziness went. Hard to make that kind of assessment in real-time between Little League games and bedtimes and school projects.

The good news is that things seem solid. We came here last year, too, so it's fun to compare what the kids were comfortable with last year and what they want to do now. A desire for more independence (for the older kids) seems to be the theme this year. And I suppose that's a good thing.

Of course, they also aced the "are you ready" quizzes that we have here on the site. So I guess I can head to the pool guilt-free for the rest of the weekend.

Happy 4th all.
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Parent Involvement Your Way

Just found this excellent year-long feature from New Haven, CT. The focus: how several parents made parent involvemnt work for themselves on their own schedules and within their own interests. Great, great stuff. And a lot for all of us to learn from.

The key take-away here (and this is coming from someone very involved in PTO and PTA stuff)is that the traditional entry points (Open House, PTO meetings) don't have to be your entry points. Those traditional structures are fine, and they work well for many.But they don't have to work for you. Find your own way to connect. Make sure your children know (and the school knows) that school is a priority for your family, but do that in a way that works for you. It's the involvement that matters, not the form of that involvement.
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Getting Involved (not *how* you get involved) is What Matters

Took me a couple of reads to actually like this story from England about the joys and perils of connecting with the PTO or PTA at your school.

My first reaction was to criticize the stereotypical portrayal that parent group volunteering means getting caught up in playground politics and cliques. (I actually wrote a column for our sister site -- ptotoday.com -- on how PTOs can avoid cliquedom) Also was disappointed that the representative from the British national PTA seems to say that "all PTAs are cliques and if you don't like it, find something else."
"Of course there's going to be the idea that the PTA is a bit cliquey. It's never intended but it almost always is."

Ugh. It's not inevitable. It's certainly an issue, but in my experience a lot of parents also go in expecting a problem and then use the first negative experience as an excuse to turn away.

But on the whole, I really liked the overall message, which is:
"Whether you're batch-baking cakes or just buying a raffle ticket, the golden rule to stress-free PTA involvement seems to be do what you can and forget the guilt."

That really hits it. If the PTO or PTA volunteering is for you -- great. If not, find another way to connect. The positive results ofgetting involvedare just too great to ignore. We've also got good ideas on how you can get involed on your own terms.
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Sneaking learning into summer fun...

Thought this feature could make for a great brainstorming lead-in. The story focuses on teachers' best ideas for keeping learning alive this summer. Good stuff. Would love to hear your secrets for this every-summer challenge.
For us, summer means quite a few long drives. And long drives are perfect for trivia. The older kids get everything from math facts ("the speed round") to spelling, while the 2 year-old gets cousins (she has 30 of them!) and Disney Princess questions.

What are you best tricks for keeping young brains firing?
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College-style fundraising coming to a school near you?

It's certainly a trend, one this Hartford Courant piece captures well. What is it? Districts (or, more often, supporters of the schools in a district) setting major-league fundraising goals and using much more sophisticated tactics (bye-bye bake sales?) to buoy stressed school budgets. Good trend? Or bad trend? That remains to be seen. From my perspective, it's hard to see any efforts that bring more support to our schools as a bad thing. Your thoughts?
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More research: parent involvement works!

And you thought those dinner conversations and parent-teacher conferences didn't matter :-)....

A pair of University of New Hampshire economists add more proof to what we've known for years -- parent involvement makes a proven difference for your kids and our schools. Read the newest parent involvement research here.

These guys even put a price tag on it, saying that increased involvement is worth the equivalent of $1000 more in spending for the average school district. We probably shouldn't wait for our checks in the mail, but we certainly should stay involved and help others get it, too.
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SchoolFamily.com is Here

Welcome to our newest resource for involved moms and dads -- schoolfamily.com.

Today, you'll find tons of great articles for helping you help your school-aged kids do great and helping you and your family keep school sane. Over the next few weeks and months and years, you're going to find lots and lots more. Think of this site as the central web meeting spot (a portal, if you will) for all things that can help you be a great school parent.

My best advice: 1) Enjoy! We're sure having a great time working on all this stuff. Hopeit'll serve you well. And 2) Relax. There's so much to worry about these days, but it's near impossible to be a good school parent while cowering in the corner. SchoolFamily.com is about getting that balance just right.

Finally, a quick thanks to all the folks who work so hard to make this site go. Our editorial team, the designers, our tech folks and more. The work does seem abit lighterwhen you're workingon such a valuable site. But it's work nonetheless, and no one does it better.

On we go...

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Making the most of parent-teacher conferences

Do you find parent-teacher conferences to be: a) enlightening, b) mutually beneficial, or c) about as fun as going to the dentist? If you answered c, you're not alone. Plenty of parents get nervous about meeting with teachers, but still, you shouldn't feel like you're being called into the principal's office.

If you haven't met your child's teacher yet, this is a great opportunity to share any information that will help her work with your child. It's also a good time to ask the teacher all those questions you've been saving up. Not sure where to start? We've put together a list of Back-to-School Conference Questions just for you.
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Hey Mom, done your homework yet?

A high school English teacher in New Jersey is making waves for requiring parents to read the same assignments as their kids and comment about them on his blog. The teacher explained to The New York Times that because parent involvement in education tends to wane as kids become teenagers, he decided to make it part of the class. Parents complain about never getting to see their kids work, he said. Now they have to.

The article has stirred up debate about just how much schools should expect from parents. (Blogger Uncertain Principles makes a good case for parent homework, while LT Strickland argues that this approach is unrealistic for many families.) What do you think? Is it unfair to ask parents to ponder Kafka after a long day at work, or is it just part of the job of being a parent?
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Be There or Be Square

"It's well-documented that parent involvement helps kids do better in school, but during the busy school year, it can be tough to set aside quality time with the kids. That's why a nationwide campaign is asking parents to have meaningful moments with their kids every day.



The Be There campaign encourages parents to do simple things to connect with their kids, like smiling, making eye contact, and asking questions about school. The idea is that these small steps show kids you care about them and their education. Schools in several Virginia communities recently signed on to the campaign, which will get the word out to parents through billboards, banners, and fliers sent home with students.



I'd love to hear from you on this. When things get crazy at your house, how do you break free from distractions and connect with your kids?

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Watch the Video!

Watch the clip of Tim's appearance this morning on Fox & Friends!

He offers some examples and a few tips for thinking about wants vs. needs for back-to-school supplies.

What kinds of tools are your kids asking for this year, and do you think they're wants or needs? Any tips of your own for balancing those two things? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Click the video to play.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ45tgvCSb0[/youtube]
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Mom Song - 24 Hours

"In just under 3 minutes, Anita Renfroe
sums up what every mom says in a 24 hour period...and even manages to
make it rhyme!

If you can't see the video, you can watch it on YouTube instead.
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Lessons on Life

"I grew up in a very small town. The kind of town where you can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know. So when I went back for a visit earlier this month, it wasn't the least bit unusual that I ran into several of my old teachers. What surprised me was how much I remember about being their student.

When I saw Mr. G, my former elementary school principal, I thought back to my first day at the school, which I transferred to in the middle of first grade. Mr. G walked me to my new classroom, which he assured me I'd like. I was shocked that someone so tall (and so old) could be so nice to a little kid. Looking back, it was his kindness (along with the new friends I made at recess) that helped me get past my new-school jitters.

I also caught up briefly with my second grade teacher, Mrs. G (no relation), who taught me to write in cursive. At that age I was incredibly shy and didn't say much in class. Mrs. G recognized that I was more comfortable writing than talking, and encouraged me to do more of both.

Another day I talked with Mrs. H, my sixth grade teacher. I don't recall much about our lessons, but I remember a lot about Mrs. H. As we were dealing with our daily adolescent dramas, she kept a reassuring order in her classroom and required that we treat one another with respect.

I'll bet that every one of you has similar stories of teachers who taught you as much about life as they did math or social studies. As your kids get to know their new teachers, don't forget to thank them for doing the same thing.
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Don't Stop the Bus

Every year, the parents in my neighborhood kick up a fuss about the middle school bus stop. The elementary kids get picked up every few houses, but once they enter 4th grade, they have to walk to a single stop. The stop is about a half-mile away from the farthest point.

When my oldest entered middle school, I asked the bus company and the school superintendent to add a second stop so she wouldn't have to walk so far. They refused, saying it would take too long and throw off the entire bus schedule. Now I'm watching other parents making the same arguments I did about safety and convenience, but since I read about a town that eliminated its buses almost entirely, I'm feeling less outraged by my children's 10-minute walk to and from the bus stop.

It seems that every year the voters in my town have to decide between paying higher taxes or chiseling away at our schools. Last spring, a tax override barely squeaked through. For now, I feel fortunate that I can put my kids on the bus each morning, no matter how far they have to walk to get to it.
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Old Notebook, Fresh Start

We made it through the first week of school and so far, so good. Except I lost the fight to convince my 4th grader to start the year with a fresh notebook.

I knew it was time to give up when, after the first day of school, I found him taping blank sheets of paper over the page dividers of last year's spiral-bound notebook. I asked him what he was doing. "Covering up all this stuff I drew in 3rd grade," he said. "The pictures are just so...you know, bright. And this way I'll have plenty of room to write down the names of my new subjects." What he wasn't saying was he thought his old drawings were babyish and he didn't want any of the other kids seeing them.

I considered pointing out that he wouldn't have to bother with the cover-up if he'd just let me buy him a new notebook, but in the end, I kept my mouth shut. My son has 10 months ahead of him of having to do what he's told. The least I can do is accept his decision about what notebook he uses. So what if it's not something I would start the year with? That recycled notebook is a statement of his own values, not his mother's
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Back to School on Boston TV

If you're in New England and hanging out tomorrow morning, I'll be appearing on the Fox 25 Morning show on Thursday, August 23rd somewhere around 8:30 AM. Will be talking about this great site and all the ways parents can make this the best school year ever for their kids. Hope you can tune in (and hope those wacky morning guys go easy on me!).
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Back to School 2007 on National TV

If you missed last week's local TV spot featuring Back2School 2007, make sure you tune in around 8:40 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Aug. 29, for the national morning news show Fox & Friends. Tim will be talking about one of those perennial parent issues at back-to-school time: figuring out the difference between what kids want for back to school and what they need....Let us know what you think!
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End of Summer Blues

Well, this is it. School starts this week, and for the first time since I myself was in school, I'm not cheerily tacking up "bon voyage" banners and breaking out the champagne. Dare I say it? I think I'm actually going to miss my kids when the school bus carts them off in a couple of days.

I took my 4th grader to his new school the other night to see his classroom and enjoy a movie courtesy of the PTO. Since then, I've been moping around like I'm the one who's about to start classes. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but I suspect it's because my kids are older and therefore more fun to be around. For the first time, I didn't spend the summer fixing lunches, cleaning up, fixing snacks, cleaning up, admonishing the kids to eat the popsicles outside, wiping up the drips. This year they got their own food and (mostly) cleaned up after themselves. I broke up a few sibling fights, but not as many as in the past. When my youngest was bored, I'd send him off on his bike in search of a friend to play with. Last summer, he was still too young to go off on his own.

Now I know what other parents mean when they say summer is too short. Hopefully the adjustment back to school will be a smooth one for all of us.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016