This article was originally published by The Arc Amplified, an online publication of The Arc of Snohomish County, in Washington state, September 2021. (Click here to access the original publication.)
There are many ways that parents can become involved in their child's school community. While this article was written in September 2021, in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, today, too, opportunities for parental involvement, such as those noted in this article, abound.
What Can You Do to Stay Involved at Your Child's School This Year?
By Whitney Stohr
After nearly two, long years of challenging schedules, remote learning and uncertainty, most of our kids have returned to in-person learning.
In. An. Actual. Classroom.
Can we get a round of applause?! Heck yes!
A special shoutout to the real MVPs -- the teachers, school staff and administrators at districts across Snohomish County -- who leaned into the unprecedented challenges that arose over these past school years. Your courage and leadership are seen and valued. The way you rolled with every punch thrown your way was nothing short of inspiring.
While the pandemic is not (yet) past and strict precautions remain necessary, parents and families are, understandably, overjoyed to feel some sense of regularity returning to their lives. This pandemic era has been, in so many ways, a daily struggle for families -- and especially, for families of children with unique circumstances, such as those living with developmental disabilities and high-risk medical conditions.
And, yet, in other ways, the abrupt deceleration of life that began with the onset of the pandemic, and the periods of isolated family time that followed, were, for many, a silver-lining that provided families an opportunity to grow closer, establish new traditions and take up hobbies. Parents and kids spent more time together, and, out of necessity, parents became directly involved in their children's education.
But, what now?
Now that kids are back in school, what can parents do to remain so highly involved in their child's schooling?
Here in Snohomish County, local school districts offer parents and family caregivers various opportunities to get involved. Do not hesitate to reach out to your child's school or district office to inquire about specific avenues for parent engagement.
Consider the following ideas:
Become a "Classroom Parent," aka the Go-To School Volunteer
Perhaps one of the best ways to stay abreast of your child's education is to volunteer at their school. While volunteer access to school buildings is limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, parent volunteers are beginning to return to campus. For parents who work during the day, many schools also welcome volunteer help with events and activities, either before or after school, or in the evenings. For an example of a school volunteer program, visit the Arlington School District or Snohomish School District websites.
Note: Remember to bring proof of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus if you intend to volunteer in local public schools. Vaccination will be required for many volunteer opportunities.
Join a Parent Organization
Joining a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) is an obvious avenue to connect with other involved parents and caregivers working to support your child's school. The parents and family caregivers of students with disabilities may also consider joining (or even starting) a Special Education parent group such as the Special Education Advisory Council in the Edmonds School District or the Everett Special Education PTSA.
Serve on a District Committee
There are often openings for parents and family caregivers to serve as a volunteer on school and district-wide advisory committees. These advisory committees may be established for a variety of reasons, from facilities management and design to planning and developing policies and programs to advance equity, diversity and inclusion goals. The Mukilteo School District provides one example of the ways in which parent volunteers participate in district committees. Parent volunteers are often a welcome voice on these committees, and the input of parents of students with disabilities or other intersectional identities is especially valuable as it is informed by unique lived experiences.
Campaign for a Position on the School Board
Public school districts are overseen by a board of local residents elected to serve in a leadership role. This group of elected officials is responsible for managing many critical aspects of the operation of the school district in which they are elected to serve. (Learn more about the role of a School Board here.) Election to a School Board affords parents and family caregivers the ability to significantly impact local schools. Imagine the shift in perspective that might occur within a district if parents of children with developmental disabilities were to be elected and serve in such important roles.
Start a Conversation
Of course, signing up as a school volunteer or launching an election campaign of your own are not the only methods of staying involved and attuned to your child's academic needs and the school environment. Successful parent involvement may be as simple as investing time in conversations -- certainly, with your own child, but also with others you happen to meet through their time at school. Reach out and schedule a quick phone call with their teacher. Establish a relationship with their therapists via email. Introduce yourself to the other parents waiting in the pick-up line after school. Get to know people. The networks we establish around ourselves can keep us involved and connected.
What about you?
How do you plan to get involved this school year?
Whitney Stohr is a Parent to Parent Coordinator at The Arc of Snohomish County. She is passionate about advocating for medically complex children and children with disabilities, and their families. She is a mom and medical caregiver herself, who is energized by working closely with other parent/family caregivers. She lives with her three-year-old son Malachi and husband Jason in Lynnwood, WA. (Article originally published in September 2021.)