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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment


by Monte Boston

Two decades of research on the relationship between home and school indicates that children have an educational advantage when their parents support and encourage their school activities. Cultural and linguistic minority parents, however, have not typically been very involved in this home-school partnership, and their absence may well be a significant factor in minority students' alienation from school. One reason often cited for why many minority students do not achieve well in school is that school is seen as a foreign environment in which they do not belong. Students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds often go to schools that seem to have little or no relevance to their everyday life. The school quite literally speaks a different language, and in some cases has rules preventing the minority students from speaking their own language. Minority students are asked to read books with pictures about people who don't look like them, act like them, or represent anything familiar, and decisions about how the school is operated are made by people they do not know and who do not know them.

All of these things that are true for minority students are true for their parents as well. Many of these parents were themselves shipped off to boarding schools far away from their own home and family. The school has not been seen to be an expression of their own lives and the culture of their community. Lack of knowledge and acceptance of the school system, sometimes coupled with a language barrier, makes minority parents reluctant to cross its threshold.

Schools have been guilty of failing to reach out to minority parents. If the schools assumed that parents really cared about the best interests of their children, and if parents assumed that teachers really cared about their children's best interests, the parents may be more likely to participate in activities provided by the school. This does not take into account that all parents are not alike, especially within a minority or cross-cultural community. Parents have varying communication styles, just as students do, and also possess different abilities, priorities, work schedules and home responsibilities. Schools need to focus on the needs of the parents and work to their strengths and interests, thus increasing parental involvement and perhaps enhancing the achievement levels of their students.

The changing family patterns in the society generally, with the growing number of working mothers, the mobility of families, the fast pace of contemporary life, and numerous other factors, have changed the relationship between parents and teachers in the society as a whole. In some cases, students go home to an empty house with no one home at night or after school, so there is no supervision or guidance. We as educators need to rebuild our relation ship with parents on a new footing and get them deeply involved in their schools, especially in a cross-cultural environment, where we need their help to provide an education appropriate to their needs and interests. If we in Alaska hope to restore the confidence of the Native public and parents in the school, then we need to support cross-cultural education and take advantage of each community's and home's educational resources. We need to take the first steps in establishing stronger home-school partnerships and be willing to go the second and third mile if necessary. This is one of the greatest challenges of working in rural Alaska.

The remainder of this paper will attempt to outline a viable program in which the community, including parents, elders, relatives, etc., can become involved in a cross-cultural parent/school program, which when implemented will hopefully show positive results in the achievement of the students.

I. Cultural Assumptions for Educators

If we as educators are to be successful as cross-cultural advocates then it is necessary to agree on a few assumptions before we can begin to build or implement a program for parents. Some of these assumptions are as follows:

A. Assume that the parent is the expert on his or her child. The parent has been responsible long before, and will continue to be responsible long after your involvement.

B. Assume that the parents are as well intentioned as you, the educator.

C. Assume that the parents are as consistent in applying their principles as you are yours.

D. Assume that the parents have a great emotional investment in their child and that the success or failure of that student affects them as well as you.

E. Assume that the purpose of the parents and the educators is to work together to help the students have the space they need to fulfill their potential.

F. Assume that you and the parents can find a way to establish a working alliance on behalf of the education of their children.

Now that a few assumptions have been made concerning the relationship between the parents and the educators, we can look at the implications for developing and implementing an effective parent involvement program.

II. Tips for Developing Cooperative Relationships Between Parents & Teachers

An important factor involved in working with parents in a cross-cultural environment is that of establishing rapport and trust with the parents or community members. Following are some specific strategies and behaviors that educators can use to initiate more productive relationships with parents.

A. Trust-building

1. Accept parents as they are and do not try to induce fundamental changes in their behavior

2. Listen carefully and emphatically for the cognitive and emotional content of the parent's messages

3. Help parents feel comfortable; share information and resources with them whenever you can

4. Prepare for meetings by studying pertinent materials beforehand

5. Focus on the parents' hopes, aspirations, concerns, and needs

6. Keep your word and be honest with the parents

7. Allow parent's expertise to shine

8. Be there when needed for consultation and do everything reasonable to meet them as soon as possible

B. Getting Off to a Good Start

1. Make early contact with parents

2. Share special needs or concerns

3. Clarify classroom programs, expectations, and daily routines and schedules

4. Honor their time limitations

5. Work on problem solving & intervention

C. Problem Solving & Intervention

1. Reduce global problems to manageable terms

2. Check for understanding by restating the problem

3. Identify any "new problems" that emerge

4. Ask the "owner" of the problem(s) to offer solutions and establish a priority list

5. Determine with the person how the problem(s) might be addressed

D. Keeping Communication Alive

1. Maintain regular contact

2. Plan and effectively use conferences

3. Clarify understanding during conferences

4. Listen closely to what parents are saying

5. Schedule a follow-up visit

6. Be supportive of the parent's position

7. Include the child in communication

8. Verify any information, if in doubt

9. Solve problems positively together

E. Planning Ahead for Another Good Year

1. Recommend summer activities that parents can do with their children

2. Ask for parents assistance in developing an educational plan for the next year

3. Thank parents for their support and assistance where justified

Ill. Planning and Implementing a Parental Involvement Program in the School

A. Preliminary teacher/administrator/parental planning

1. Set your goals

2. Jointly define the parent roles

3. Consider all viewpoints

4. Establish program policies

a. Time limits

b. Program scope

c. School facilities

d. Involvement requirements

e. Special training or knowledge

f. Program control

g. Evaluation of program

B. Parent/teacher/administrator workshop

1. The student needs

2. The program expectations

3. Activities for teachers and students

4. Parental involvement and commitment

5. Program benefits

C. Teacher/administrator/parental plans

1. Contact the parents and the other people involved.

2. Advertise and encourage parental involvement.

3. Develop individual plans of action and how it will be implemented.

D. Parental orientation

1. Familiarize the parents with your school.

2. Discuss with them the parent's role

3. Discuss pupil characteristics

4. Introduce methods and materials

5. Review guidelines for parents

E. Parents in the school

1. Orient your students to the parents role

2. Establish your classroom routine with parents in mind

3. Help your parents learn the routine

4. Express your appreciation & thanks

F. Evaluating your parental involvement program

1. Solicit the views of all participants

2. Arrange for on-going reviews of the programs effect 

IV. Options for the V.I.P. Parent Involvement Program

Following is an outline of options for implementing a parental involvement program in a cross-cultural environment, including some of the most productive approaches that schools have used to integrate parents into school activities. These will be listed first and described in more detail later:

1. Home-school communications

2. Parental newsletter

3. V.I.P. support group

4. Informal letters and calls each week

5. Parents as supporters

6. Parents as learners

7. Advocate parents, advisors

8. Community teachers program

9. Booster clubs

10. Room parents

11. Adult adoption program

12. Tutorial program

13. Native cross-cultural counseling

14. Fund raising

15. School advisory council

16. Native arts and crafts classes

17. Parent volunteer program

18. Curriculum advisory committee

19. At-risk youth program

20. Community/parental lunch program

21. Safe-home community program

22. Potluck dinners & Native dancing

23. Intervention team members

24. Parent attender program

25. Community night


Description of Optional Approaches for the V.I.P. Program

  1. Home-school communications: The exchange of information between parent and teacher to help both the school and family assist the child's learning at school.
  2. Parental newsletter: Questions and answers about happenings, activities, positive programs, and other good things going on at school (monthly).
  3. V.I.P. support group: A teacher/administrator/parental rap group to sit down and discuss problems, issues, concerns that affect the students and the school (monthly).
  4. Informal letters and calls each week: Teachers and administrators initiate positive phone call contact with parents on a weekly basis concerning school affairs.
  5. Parents as supporters: This component represents the traditional role that parents have played such as fund-raising, open houses, student performances, field trips, chaperoning activities, organizing book fairs, campus cleanups, etc..
  6. Parents as learners: Parents have an opportunity to increase their knowledge about the school curriculum, school policies, and other aspects of school life, as well as being able to increase their own parenting skills.
  7. Advocate parents. advisors: Parents have an opportunity to share their views with teachers and administrators and influence decisions on issues that affect their children. Many schools have established school site advisory councils to help parents play this role. An active PTA group serves as a valuable advocacy group for students and the school.
  8. Community teachers program: This component of a parental involvement program includes parents and other members of the community who come into the classroom and teach a class once a week or so to students in the school. These classes might include math, science, social studies, civics, government, reading, or Native cultural classes in skin sewing, beadwork, basket making, dancing, drumming, boat building, ivory carving, baleen basket making, cooking and preparation of game and meat.
  9. Booster clubs: The booster club can be a supportive and enthusiastic arm for all extracurricular activities. This can include sports and athletics, academics, Native games, dances, and other school related functions.
  10. Room parents: Room parents can help with room parties, school dances, holiday festivities, local Native celebrations, plays and productions, arts and crafts classes, and music. Room parents can be a tremendous boost in a school.
  11. Adult adoption program: This component involves students adopting one or two parents, elders, senior citizens, or community members to be their adopted members. This means that the students have to communicate with their adoptees through letters, phone calls, lunch with the class, etc., and the adoptees should be involved in everything that the class does.
  12. Tutorial program: Parents can provide academic tutorial help for students in need.
  13. Native cultural counselor: Students need to have someone they feel they can trust to talk about problems facing them. The parent/counselor becomes a sounding board for students and a liaison for the administration and the teachers. The counselor should be Native, strong in convictions, morally straight, and respected and trusted by the students.
  14. Fund raising: Fund raising is another way in which parents can become involved in school activities. Funds are needed from time to time to provide for students' needs that are not provided for in the administrative budget.
  15. School advisory council: This council should be a very important and integral part of the function of rural schools, to serve as the people's voice and provide an opportunity for the parents, elders, community leaders and members to have input into their own school.
  16. Native arts and crafts classes: These classes could be held after school, in the evenings, and on the weekends for students who have a great desire to learn and become more proficient in the production of local crafts. High school students should be given elective or art credit for completion of such courses. These can include ivory carving, drumming, dancing, Native games, boat building, skin sewing, cooking and other culturally appropriate activities.
  17. Parent volunteer program: The parent volunteer program is an excellent way to get parents involved in school activities. The volunteer jobs can range from class aide to office helper to lunchroom aide to copy expert. It can also involve securing materials and needed items for the class.
  18. The curriculum steering committee: This committee deals specifically with the curriculum of the school. Members, including parents, teachers, and administrators, evaluate current curriculum, research new and more effective curriculum approaches, recommend to and advise the school advisory council, and set goals for implementation in conjunction with the advisory council and school board.
  19. At-risk youth program: At-risk youth are those who are failing in school, considering dropping out, or are struggling with problems that limit their success in school. Parents can become involved in the intervention process and help to encourage, support, and spend time with these students.
  20. Community-parental lunch program: This is a program where members of the community come in and share lunch with the students on a weekly basis. This provides an opportunity for parents and students to spend time together and share the school and community experiences with each other.
  21. Safe-home community program: This is a community based program where students are guaranteed a safe and protective environment for a specified period, from abusive parents, drug and alcohol abusers, sexual abusers, etc.. The parents of these safe-homes provide the needed care and help 24 hours a day as needed.
  22. Potluck dinners and dancing: This is an enjoyable way of entertaining and sharing cultural customs. It is also a way to get parents to come to school and enjoy meeting the staff and the administration. Native dancing and singing naturally accompany such festivities.
  23. Intervention team members: This is an excellent place for parents and members of the community to become involved with students who are disruptive and experiencing behavioral problems. The intervention team can be used to discuss the problem, confront the student, and provide goals for the improvement of the student. It is also a good way for students to learn that there are those in the community who are genuinely concerned for their welfare.
  24. Parent attender program: This is a program where parents are used to call other parents on a weekly basis and visit with them about their son/daughter's attendance problems. It is sometimes more comfortable and less threatening for parents if they can talk to someone who understands their language, problems, concerns, and customs.
  25. Community night: This can be arranged one night a month and set up for everyone to come and play cards, casino, games, dancing, singing, bingo and a variety of other things, including refreshments. The school can hold a raffle for fund-raising, have door prizes, and create a community spirit within the school setting which in turn can make it more comfortable for everyone.


Evaluation of the Parental Involvement Program in Your School

At certain times, the progress of each of your parental involvement initiatives needs to be assessed and evaluated by the parents, the teachers, principal, administrators, outside observers, and even the students. The administrators and the principal will be particularly concerned that the program is meeting the goals established for it. Some re-planning may be necessary, or maybe shorter term goals will need to be established. Observations by visiting specialists can provide useful new perspectives.

Teachers may find that they will need to spend more time planning for and with parents or establishing relationships that are more conducive to cooperation and communication. They may also find that it will take a lot of time and energy to develop and place these programs into action, and that they must be willing to share the burden of the work with the parents and the administration.

Parents need to examine their own performance in light of the objectives that they have set out for themselves. Parents need to evaluate their usefulness and whether or not they are under-utilized or over-utilized in the particular situation. Parents need to evaluate their commitment, their preparation for their activities, their attention to individual student needs, their success in working with the students, their attitude and relationship with the school officials and teachers, and their fulfillment of their role as a participant in each of the programs. Suggestions then need to be made on what might have been done differently by all parties in the future.

The amount of participation or turnover in a program is a good indication of the success of that program. Evaluation of your parent involvement program may take the form of written reports, questionnaires, individual conferences, or group discussions. Whatever techniques that are employed for observation and feedback, they should not entail a lot of paperwork. Emphasis should be on action for improvement and growth.

If your parental program is to grow, it must be flexible enough to allow for changes. Continuing workshops and discussions are needed to facilitate an exchange of experiences and ideas. The program of parental involvement must evolve from the needs of the students and the school. The suggested program components can only provide basic direction. It is the realization of the school personnel how valuable the parental potential is in the community that will mean a richer and more meaningful educational experience for all students.


Cross-cultural parental involvement programs can be the backbone of the school if properly planned, implemented and evaluated. It takes commitment, participation, and dedication to the goals on everyone's part to make the programs an effective tool. The improvement of the student's educational experience should be the ultimate goal in any program that is developed. If a parental involvement program is successful it will induce productive results in terms of better performance on achievement test scores, better behavior in the classroom, more cooperation and school spirit within the whole community, and most of all, a more well-rounded, better adjusted student. Even though we as educators face the potential stumbling blocks of different languages, built-in prejudices, class-bound values, culture-bound values, nonverbal communication differences, and cultural stereotypes, we can diminish all of these through parental involvement programs. Such programs should be an integral part of any school and should be continually fostered and encouraged. The cultural needs of the students and the community must be met before any kind of academic progress can be effectively measured. It can be time consuming and take a few years to get some of these initiatives implemented, but it is certainly worth the effort that everyone puts forth.

Ice Hunter


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
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Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
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Last modified August 18, 2006