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NBC News Education Nation: Parents are Children's Teachers at Home

By Tiffany Cooper Gueye, Ph.D.

Students are getting back into the swing of things and working hard in the classroom. Now is the time that parents can play an integral role in helping them get off to a strong start in their new grade, with their new teacher, and, for some students, in their new school.

While parental involvement in education is an important motivator for all students, it's particularly important in low-income communities and under-resourced schools due to large class sizes and a lack of high-quality learning opportunities. A child could raise his hand 20 times a day in the classroom, but when a teacher is struggling to engage 25 or 30 other students, not everyone will receive the quality attention they need and deserve in school alone.

By building a strong support system in the home, as well as in school and the community, parents can better help position their children for success. A study conducted by the Association for Middle Level Education found that when parents are involved, students show improved academic performance, better attendance, higher graduation rates, and improved self-esteem and motivation.

In high-need schools and communities, parents often work multiple jobs to make ends meet and may not always have the time or resources to engage their children in educational activities. The following concrete ideas are a few ways that parents can help educators struggling with time constraints and a limited budget:

  • Talk to your kids: Ask questions about their day at school. Find out what they learned or what their favorite part of the day was. Recalling the day's lesson can help improve retention and also lets you know what they're studying.
  • Talk to their teachers: Meet with teachers periodically to check in on your child's progress and find out what subjects they'll be learning about.
  • Establish a daily routine: Set aside time to complete homework and always be sure to check it for accuracy. Encourage eating dinner as a family, and set a reasonable bedtime and stick to it.
  • Set goals: Give your kids achievable goals throughout the school year. For instance, take their most recent report card and reward them for getting a better grade on their next one.
  • Cut down on idle time: Encourage your children to take up a hobby like reading, writing, or drawing. Keep their brains engaged by asking them to help you cook dinner and figure out the fractions in a recipe.
  • Create fun ways to apply academic skills: When you're on the bus or in the car, play the alphabet game with your kids and challenge them to find letters or words and exercise their literacy skills. Bring your child to the grocery store and exercise their math skills by figuring out how much one egg out of a dozen costs, etc.
  • Extend learning beyond the classroom: Ask your friends and your child's teachers if a high- quality after school program is available for your child at or nearby their school. Often, this can be a simple and potentially free activity.
  • Don't let the weekends or breaks go to waste: Weekends and holiday breaks can present excellent opportunities for enriched learning experiences that can be fun and interactive. Taking part in a community service project or visiting a local museum will encourage social interaction and inspiration.

At BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), we strive to make parental involvement a top priority. Once a child - whom we call a "scholar" - is enrolled in our summer learning or after school programs, parents become more involved. The BELL team helps parents understand their child's educational needs and progress, engage in weekly reading activities, and learn how to best support their child's education.

The sense of satisfaction BELL parents enjoy after the completion of the program speaks for itself: 92 percent of those surveyed at the end of last year's BELL After School program reported feeling more engaged in their child's education, and 98 percent would recommend the program to other parents.

Schools, community-based organizations and others working with students must always keep in mind and reinforce that their lives are constantly shaped by two types of educators - teachers and parents. We have seen firsthand the combined impact they can have on our children's ability to realize and fulfill their full potential. Increasing parental involvement in a child's education is a simple and often free activity that can yield positive results.

Dr. Tiffany Cooper Gueye is the CEO of BELL, a national non-profit organization that partners with schools and school districts to deliver high quality out-of-school time programs to underserved youth in grades K-8.