Ideas for Parent/Community Grants
by Sarah Schwabacher
Do I have a suitcase full of "goodies" for you! No, the holidays are not here yet, and the goodies are not sweets or toys; but for every Cornerstone school that is wishing for fresh and interesting ideas to involve their parents and community, I do have a bag full to share.
Whenever I help a Leadership Team brainstorm for a Parent/Community engagement grant, I bring along a suitcase full of examples from the Cornerstone network schools. Your schools are such a rich source of inspiration! You may want to take a look:
Of course you'll need the Cornerstone Parent/Community Engagement Grant Guidelines (Toolkit document # 3.3 ) and grid describing the development of projects over the four stages. Also, you will find locally-developed newsletters, collections of stories written by parents and families, copies of photographs and flyers. But whether I'm there or not, teams can always go to one of the best resources available to all of us at any time -- the Cornerstone newsletter! Whatever you're considering, there is almost always a past issue with a great example of what another Cornerstone school has tried along the same lines. Let's take a tour.
Our tour begins where most schools begin - with supporting parents in their role as their children's first teacher. In the Focusing Stage, schools invite and welcome parents into schools and classrooms. Parents are provided with books, materials, newsletters and workshops to help them become more effective as their child's first literacy teacher. As schools move into the Establishing Stage, parent leaders collaborate with school staff to share effective practices with other parents. Go to the Cornerstone website, click on "Newsletter Archives", open up Newsletter volume 3.2 and take a look at the article "Family Literacy Nights" to read how parent representatives helped the Charles Lake school community come together to make these events a success for children and parents. Many schools have established successful practices involving take-home book collections. This is a great way to use reading and books to build a strong relationship between the home and school environment. Read about the Frederick Harris' book bag project by going to Newsletter volume 4.6 and clicking on the title "Give Them Books - Enjoy." While you're at it, take a look at the article "Families Learning Together" about Scranton Elementary School's family field trips in the same issue (#4.6) of the newsletter. And for a range of creative ideas about how to approach Family Literacy nights - from conversations with community role models to parent/child book writing - take a look at Newsletter volume 2.6, click on "School Bulletin Board' and find the article "Look What's Happening at Hill!" Newsletters are also full of materials that you may find useful to share with parents. Take a look at the article "Families and Oral Language" in Newsletter volume 4.4.
Moving on to communication and collaboration, classroom teachers are the first, and probably most important, connection between parents and the school. "Communication is Key" in Newsletter volume 3.2 describes all the efforts made by a coach at Watkins Elementary to bolster home/school communications. Another approach used at Waccamaw Elementary is described in "Getting to Know You" in Newsletter volume 4.2. The power of the home/school connection is enhanced when parents are supported in their literacy learning and then volunteer in Cornerstone classrooms. "What Parents are Up To at M. L. King" in Newsletter volume 4.1 describes parent volunteer training in the comprehension strategies. Parents who are familiar with these strategies can then support the teaching intentions from the Cornerstone Framework as they read with children in coaches' and other teachers' classrooms. Click on the School Bulletin Board to find "In the Tradition of the Storyteller" in Cornerstone Newsletter volume 3.3 and read about how Threadgill Elementary School collaborated with the Senior Citizens Center to develop a team of storyteller volunteers. The volunteers were even able to meet with Lu Lewis via videoconference for additional training.
Hosting book studies for parents is another way schools have approached supporting volunteers. The "Food For Thought" column in Newsletter volume 2.2 has a review of Mem Fox's Reading Magic, which makes a great book study. During the 2003-2004 school year, Sycamore School published a newsletter entitled "Parents at Work" with a monthly column describing their Parent Book Study. A different participant wrote about what had happened in the group each month. One mom wrote "I learned that I have been teaching my child, using a variety of reading strategies without even knowing it. In Mem Fox's book Reading Magic, she states that if we read three books to our children daily until they started school, we will stamp out illiteracy for good." She went on to give lots of great suggestions, such as "While reading, the two of you could also relate the characters of the book to different people that you know. My mother is going to get me for this, but my daughter at age 3 stated that Eeyore in "Winnie the Pooh" reminded her of her Grandmaw Glen. (Sorry Mom, but you said you liked Eeyore.)" When parents share what they are learning with other parents, they are leading the work.
Bringing the community culture into the school makes the home/school connection vibrant and real. At the classroom level, beginning at the focusing stage, this means taking advantage of parent communications to better reach children, as described in the Sycamore School article "Parent Surveys Inform Instruction" in Newsletter volume 2.6. Or it can mean bringing parent stories into the school from the community as described in the article "Schema in the Mississippi Delta" in Newsletter volume 3.1. It can also mean asking a parent to teach the class about an area of personal expertise, like the Nigerian dance taught to a kindergarten class described in the article "Moonlight Dancing at Maplewood" in Newsletter volume 3.5. A school-wide storytelling project at the establishing stage makes use of home language and family stories to trigger imagination and rich language. This type of project is described in the article "Parent Project Stemley" which you can find in Cornerstone Newsletter volume 2.3. The "Snapshots of South Conway" project, described in this newsletter issue is a great example of a project at the developing stage, one which encourages school-wide display of and respect for cultural backgrounds and experiences of parents, children and community members.
Connecting families and communities with non-fiction reading and writing across the curriculum can be used to infuse issues of critical importance to the community throughout the curriculum, which occurs at the enhancing stage. Parent interviews are viewed as a source for social studies curriculum in the "Parents as Teachers" article in Cornerstone Newsletter volume 4.3. In volume 4.5, "Parents Spreading the Work: Visualizing a Plan for School-Community Connections" describes Stemley's plan for involving families and the community in the curriculum at every grade level.
Now for a really special surprise in my bag of goodies! If you have an idea, but can't put your hand on this article to find the resources, there is a quick way to hunt down ideas on the Cornerstone website. On the homepage of Cornerstoneliteracy.org and at the bottom of the left column, you will find a "public search box." For instance, if you are looking for articles and ideas for using "family stories," just type that in the empty box, hit "Go," and the Google search within the Cornerstone website will pull up every place that it is found. Isn't that great?!
I hope this whirlwind tour of the Cornerstone Newsletter archives has whet your appetite for finding out more about your colleagues' successes as you design your own.