ParentNet Makes Its Program Materials Free to Schools: Parent Involvement Program Helps Parents Know More, Worry Less

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ParentNet is a school-based program aimed at increasing parent involvement. The highly-acclaimed program, developed over ten years in twenty-five schools, is now free to schools everywhere.

Most parents worry a lot about their children, and understandably so. But ParentNet’s founder, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, wishes parents would spend less time worrying, and invest a little more time talking with other parents about parenting.

The mission of the nonprofit National ParentNet Association is to change the culture of American schools by increasing meaningful parent involvement both at school and at home. The organization helps schools to hold ParentNet meetings: structured discussions in which parents of children in the same grade talk about relevant parenting topics and learn strategies that work for other families.

"The result," Price-Mitchell says, "is parents who are more relaxed and confident, raising kids who are happier, healthier, and more successful in school and in life."

Price-Mitchell adds that ParentNet also supports teachers in perhaps their biggest challenge. "Teachers across the nation rightfully complain that, increasingly, kids don't come to class prepared to learn. Teachers want parents to hold their kids accountable for their behavior and academic performance, and provide a home life that is conducive to learning. ParentNet helps parents do exactly that."

ParentNet meetings are held two or three times a year in each grade, and are led by parent volunteers who have received special ParentNet training. A faculty liaison also attends each meeting, and looks for avenues to encourage partnership between parents and the school. All participants agree to abide by a "Parent Contract," which keeps the discussion positive, focused and confidential.

Meetings are offered from preschool through grade 12, and discussion topics vary depending on the grade level. Parents decide which topics are relevant to their current needs and the school community. Discussions are often centered on homework, social pressures and teaching respectful behaviors. Managing usage of television, video games and the Internet are popular topics at all grade levels.

"Cyber-bullying – harassment via e-mail and instant messaging – didn't exist when ParentNet began 10 years ago, but it's a very big topic today," Price-Mitchell says.

ParentNet began in 1996 as a grassroots program at The Overlake School in Redmond, Washington.

Francisco Grijalva, Ed.D., Head of School at The Overlake School, says that ParentNet has become an essential part of his school's culture: “ParentNet not only gets our parents talking about issues that matter but also increases parent leadership and involvement in all aspects of the school community. Our school faculty liaisons who attend meetings contribute insights from the school's perspective, and help parents and the school work toward common goals."

"Individually, all parents have doubts and questions about their parenting," Grijalva adds. "But when they gather together to talk in a thoughtful and focused way about the challenges of parenting, their fears are often relieved, and they become energized and more confident."

Price-Mitchell says that ParentNet meetings fill an unmet need in schools today, by helping parents and schools collaborate on producing healthy, successful children.

“Most schools miss the opportunity to provide the type of parent involvement that contributes to better parenting and higher-achieving students,” Price-Mitchell explains. “Instead, they deluge parents with requests to fill volunteer jobs and raise money. While these activities are essential to the survival of many schools, they don’t help kids develop into successful adults."

Improved parent involvement in schools is one of the eight goals set forth by the National Education Goals Panel and endorsed by Presidents Bush and Clinton. The latest research by Public Agenda shows that the most important type of involvement is what parents do at home that makes a positive difference in the academic, social, and emotional development of their children.

ParentNet has earned support from leading professionals in education and psychology. Anne T. Henderson, Education Policy Consultant with New York University and member of ParentNet’s Advisory Board, says, "The depth and quality of parents' engagement in children's learning is greatly affected by support and encouragement from other parents. Bringing parents together through ParentNet strengthens our communities and supports higher student achievement."

The ParentNet program has been developed by parents and educators over a period of almost 10 years in 25 public and private schools in five states. Today, ParentNet has supported more than 8,000 parent participants, and the program has more than 1,000 trained volunteers.

With the recent launch of a new website, ParentNet was made available to all schools nationwide. Today, any school may launch the program with free downloadable materials and information from http://www.parentnetassociation.org.

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