Like any effective early childhood educator, Haitham Okeh knows that his students’ parents are their first and most powerful teachers. From their first moments, children learn language, problem-solving, and social skills from their parents. Once those children enter the formal school system, their parents’ involvement in their education has a huge impact on their success in school. For education reform advocates in the United States, encouraging parental involvement is a crucial element of any plan for improving formal education. At TYO, where we seek to transform whole families, not just individuals, parental involvement is an integral part of the Core Child Program.
The teachers in the Core Child Program reach out to their students’ parents several times throughout the 12-week session. At the start of the program, they hold meetings in each of the refugee camps and neighborhoods where TYO works. In these meetings, they give parents logistical information about the program and introduce them to the goals and potential of non-formal education. Throughout the session, the teachers continue to cultivate supportive relationships with their students’ parents by calling to share their concerns or observations of changes in their children’s behavior. Likewise, they check in with parents when a child misses at least two classes, reminding them that their child is important to us, and their child’s development is our primary goal.
Recently, Haitham and the other Core teachers held mid-term parent meetings to assess the challenges and successes of the program to date, to learn more about their students’ home environments, and to offer parents the tools they need to complement their children’ growth at TYO. At the most recent meeting with parents, Haitham observed that much of his students’ problematic behavior in the classroom was directly linked to parenting practices.
Some of Haitham’s students demonstrate signs of neglect at home. During his meeting with those students’ mothers, he learned that many of the parents were unaware of their children’s needs. Often, they did not know how important it was to spend quality time engaging with their children. Moreover, other elements of their home environments often made it difficult for them to spend time with their children.
Likewise, Haitham learned that many of his students’ parents have few effective techniques for handling and managing their children. One student, Amir, uses profanity and is highly aggressive towards other children. During his meeting with Amir’s mother, Haitham discovered that she needed serious psychological support and guidance in order to break the cycle of violence in the home. As she told him, aggression was the only pattern she knew; she didn’t know how else to interact with her children.
The Core teachers are educators, neither psychologists nor parenting experts, so they cannot give parents the personal coaching they need to improve their interactions with their children. Nevertheless, the teachers use those mid-term meetings to identify the biggest challenges facing the parents in each neighborhood and refugee camp. The teachers then arrange for experts to conduct workshops with the parents later in the session that give them information about their most pressing concerns. Furthermore, with the establishment of the Women’s Group at TYO, the teachers can now offer mothers ongoing workshops with experts to meet their personal and parenting needs.
In order to involve parents successfully, schools must also listen to them. In his piece about parental involvement, Matthew Lynch writes, “Schools must be prepared for the fact that one outcome of effective parental involvement programs will be the desire of parents to become partners in the decision-making process existing in schools.” In response to parents’ repeated requests for more direct support for formal education at TYO, the Core Program for six- to eight-year-olds has recently added Homework Help to each day’s agenda. Haitham reports that parents have been much more involved this session because they have seen their suggestions make a tangible difference in their children’s experiences at TYO.
By giving parents a forum to share their opinions and ask their questions, our Core teachers are ensuring that their work will be sustained far beyond the 12 weeks of each session. As the children grow and heal, their parents do the same, and as a result, whole homes and families are transformed