Guest post by Derek Fialkiewicz

In my life before I was a school administrator, I was a math teacher. In most parent-teacher conferences, I listened to parents explain their struggles to help their children with math:

It has been so long since I have done algebra. I have forgotten how. 

This doesn’t look anything like what I learned.

I have a college degree, and I can’t figure this out.

After hearing this over and over again for 15 years, it occurred to me. Why aren’t we teaching our parents what our students are learning? So many parents want to help their children with math, but they lack the knowledge and skills to provide the necessary support. Since parents showed a willingness to help, I realized that what we needed was a Parent University to equip them with the knowledge, skills, resources and confidence they need to become a learning partner in their child’s math education.

Program Design

Parent University is a free program taught by our math teachers that meets on campus every other week for 90 minutes on Saturday mornings. Parents and their children attend the sessions together and learn math content and strategies that will be covered in class for the following two weeks. Teachers show parents ways to help their children with homework and prepare for tests. Students see a preview of the upcoming content and learn strategies for upcoming assessments.

A Formula for Success

Now finishing up its fourth year, Parent University has gained popularity and our data indicates the program’s success. Over 80 percent of students whose parents attend at least half of the biweekly classes saw their math grades increase by more than 10 percentage points from first to last quarter.

It’s not just the data that reveals the value of Parent University. Feedback from both parents and students has been overwhelmingly positive. Instead of explaining their struggles to me, parents now tell me how the sessions have brought their family closer because of the time they spend working on homework and studying for tests together. Parents appreciate the math refresher course and have learned new strategies to help their children in math and other coursework. Not only do the parents see the improvements in their child’s math grade, they also see a boost in their child’s confidence and attitude toward learning it.

The best part for me, as a math teacher, is watching parents and their children helping each other persevere through math challenges. I have witnessed parents and children gain new respect for each other during classes. Some of the students actually drag their parents out of bed on Saturday morning so they aren’t late. One parent told me her family now has conversations about math at the dinner table and in the car.

The Future of Parent University

The success of the program has led to the development of additional Parent Universities at other schools in our district. Teachers and administrators at other schools have contacted me about developing a Parent University at their schools. Recently, I even presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics regarding the program.

My hope is that more school leaders will look at Parent University as a way to engage parents in their child’s learning. Parents are ready and willing to devote time and energy to the academic life of their children. Why not provide them with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to truly make a difference?

What are your experiences with parental engagement? Could a parent university help your school? 

Derek Fialkiewicz is principal of Lied Middle School in Las Vegas, NV, which serves a diverse population of about 1,000 students in grades 6–8. He became an administrator nine years ago after teaching high school math for 12 years. He is the 2017 Nevada Assistant Principal of the Year and a National Assistant Principal of the Year Finalist. He is an avid participant of #APChat on Twitter. Follow him @derwood73.

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