29, 2009 Lindsay Kaye Ohlert For this assignment, I interviewed two of the people who staff the “Family Room” at my school, Thao Lor Lee and Mary Sellers. We talked about the role of their office in particular, and of familial involvement in general. The office is staffed by five individuals. Two of them are volunteer coordinators, whose primary duties are recruiting and managing helpers from local universities, community groups, Americorps organizations and students’ families. The other three, including Thao and Mary, are in charge of “everything else” involved in school-home collaboration, quite a large umbrella. “I don’t know if there’s a typical day,” Thao said, listing their various duties: planning community activities, translating documents and meetings, connecting families in need to available resources, running the family involvement committee, scheduling parent-teacher conferences, hiring interpreters, and updating Connect-ED. At the time I interviewed them, they were in the process of planning “Donuts for Dads,” an initiative to get fathers to come in to school in the mornings to have breakfast with their children and spend time reading to them. Despite the fact that much of the office’s work is done behind the scenes, they say that faculty and staff are well aware of the resource the Family Room represents, and take advantage of it frequently. One of the things that has impressed me about Phalen Lake is the way students arrive at school on time and ready to learn. I know the reverse is often an issue in urban, high-need schools, and I suspect that much of the credit for Phalen Lake’s avoidance of the common problem of students arriving late and emotionally, physically or materially unprepared is due to the work of the Family Room – the parents and caretakers are kept very aware of what’s going on at school and what’s required for student success, and are contacted early and frequently with concerns and provided support in addressing those concerns. Also, overall, the school’s culture is very harmonious – students tend to interact with one another and with teachers very calmly

CI 5699 [ASSIGNMENT: FAMILY COLLABORATION REFLECTION] NOV. 29, 2009 Lindsay Kaye Ohlert and respectfully - and I think that too is partially attributable to the Family Room’s efforts. The frequently presence of family in the building, as volunteers and for community activities, helps reinforce home values in the school and vice versa, and I think the kids, especially the younger kids, simply find it easier to maintain an even emotional and behavioral keel when their home life and school life are neatly aligned. I suspect this is particularly important for ESL students, as if care is not taken, the divide between their home life and their school life is often even wider than that of the average student, due to language issues and differing cultural expectations. I’m well aware that most schools don’t have staff assigned full-time to fostering this school-home connection, let alone a comprehensive program for doing so, and that I’m likely to end up working at such a school. Observing the positive effects of school-home collaboration at Phalen Lake has really solidified my resolve to make bringing students’ families into my classroom a priority in the future. It can be extremely time-consuming – Mary, Thao and their colleague Neftali are kept in constant motion, and they don’t even have teaching duties! – but I can see that the results are worth the time invested, so I intend to step up my efforts in this area once I’m back in my own classroom.

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