The impact of parental involvement

EVERY year I interview school board candidates running for office and I ask them, “How can you make our schools better?” and someone inevitably answers “more parental involvement.”

That phrase, and the one that goes “it’s for the children” can cause a cynical journalist like yours truly to put down his pen and drop-kick the editorial “we” out the door.

Last week in this space, in an anti-cynical move if I say so myself, I was principal for the day at a Bassett Unified School, and I challenged parents to get involved with their kids’ education. On Friday, I followed up by attending the 11th Annual Parent Involvement Academy put on by Bassett, Alhambra Unified, El Monte City School District, El Monte Union High School District, Garvey School District, Little Lake City School District, Montebello Unified School District and Rowland Unified School District (as well as the Los Angeles County Office of Education).
I conducted an informal survey by asking parents two questions: What good does volunteering really do? And if they answered in the affirmative, how do you get other school parents to volunteer?

I don’t know if I got definitive answers in my two-hour spin around the Pacific Palms Conference Resort in Industry where 900 parents and presenters gathered, but the parents I met were most impressive.

“It does a lot of good,” said Hugo Solis, whose daughter, Alina, attends South El Monte High School. “I’m here learning more about aid and scholarships for college. At home, they will ask me about scholarships and I can share this information with them. This will help us.”
He had me at hello, simply because he was a volunteer dad. Most here were moms and grandmoms.

Then he hit me with this bombshell: He felt like a hypocrite telling his daughter to stay in school when he himself had not completed high school. “So as a parent, I went back to school. I am going to Ramona Adult School and am getting my high school diploma … I am planning on going to college, too,” he said. Solis hopes to study real estate.

I told you they were impressive. Seems like volunteering at his daughter’s school helps her, helps others and helps himself. His example should get other parents off the couch, yes?
Then I met Alba Rangel who has volunteered at schools since her son, her oldest, began Head Start preschool. Though he’s struggled with learning disabilities, Jose graduated from Schurr High School and now attends East Los Angeles College. Her daughter is applying to Cal State Los Angeles.

Rangel spoke passionately about the difference volunteering has made. Everything she learned – from the A-G university requirements, to how to walk through an IEP (individual education plan) – came from her volunteering. “It makes a difference when you not only get involved, but get educated,” she explained.

She now tries to pass along her knowledge within the Montebello USD. “You’ve got to shine the other apples, too, and make sure they don’t get rotten.”
Rangel said too often Latino parents give excuses about why they don’t visit their child’s teachers on back-to-school night. Her husband told her he could not get involved because of his work. She convinced him to change to night hours and volunteer during the day. “He now helps out, you know, by putting ice on the ice chests and selling juices.”

Maria Padilla and Carmen Manzo, both volunteers at Alhambra High School, both Spanish speakers, said through an interpreter that they were volunteering in order to help their children graduate and move on to college.

Manzo said by getting “educated” about high school and college requirements, her own children can talk to her more freely. “They know the parents are in communications with the school so they can’t pull the wool over my eyes.”

I surmised from talking to folks that parental involvement is growing, especially at high schools. The question is not getting more parents involved but whether schools are capable of handling more volunteers. If so, what are schools doing to attract and retain parent volunteers?

Nogales High School in La Puente has a “parent center,” a room where parents can come and ask questions. Some take parental education classes in the evenings.

I also learned that simply saying “we wish more parents were involved” is the wrong response. Board members, principals and PTA presidents must form creative outreaches that help working parents connect with public schools.

Gilbert Garcia, Rowland Unified board member, said the principal of Rowland High School, Robbie Robinson, has begun mentoring 20 students who were failing. So far, five turned failing grades into passing grades in three classes each. “That is a huge impact,” Garcia said.

My Favorite Things

About a week ago I wrote about how the small cities we live in here in the San Gabriel Valley give us some favorite things. Things we hang onto for familiarit, convenience or nostalgia.

One of those I lamented was the loss of the drive-through post office box from the Temple City Post Office.
I got an email from Barbara Dreibus who set me straight:
“In today’s Star-News, you mention that the drive through post box was removed from the Temple ICty Post Office, which is true. However, you must not have read the note on their door, which tells you that the drive through post box was moved to the public parking area of Primrose, between Woodruff and Las Tunas. It evidently was move dthere for stafety reasons. I,too, was concerned at first that it was gone, but I find it easier now in that public parking lot than I did at the post office itself” -Barbara Dreibus

Thanks Barbara!
On Tuesday night, I had to mail a letter and I was in my car, coming from Baldwin Avenue. I found the public parking lot and there was the new post office box. It still had that chute that makes it easy to slip in an envelope right from the car window! I would not have known this was there without Barbara’s e-mail. She made my week!

On the issue of the Star Donuts store (on Las Tunas Drive) no longer selling low-fat muffins, I still am looking for some good low-fat muffings. But I received an e-mail on the subject that If I find, I will post. A reader said I should buy those Zen muffins from Traders Joe’s. I love Traders’ but I don’t like those Zen muffins. Besides, my Weight Watchers teacher says the calorie/fat info on the label is for a half a muffin, not a whole one. So beware!

I received another e-mail from a San Gabriel Valley Tribune reader, who shared with me her favorite deli. Here’s her e-mail (Many old timers might recognize the establishment):

“I enjoyed your editorial today regarding daylight savings time and your favorite places.

“I just wanted to tell you about one of my favorite places – and it’s still there. It’s Canter’s Deli on Fairfax in L A. I grew up living near there and it was a favorite. We used to walk there after school and have fries and a coke. Later we used to go for the good stuff – huge cornerd beef sandwiches on rye, lox and bagels, pastrami, and of course the bakery stuff. My mother used to buy me a pound of my favorite baked chocolate thing (I can’t remember the name) for my birthdays when I was in college.

I don’t drive the freeway now and have no way to get there except if my sister will pick me up at the subway at Wilshire & Western. A couple of years ago she said she wouldn’t —– because I always want to do the same thing – go to Canter’s and drive by the old neighborhood —– and that I was wrong for not wanting to try NEW THINGS. Well, if I want to try NEW THINGS, I can try them in West Covina or in this area. The whole thing about making the awful trip to LA is seeing the old favorites……….Canter’s, Farmer’s Market (not The Grove, which is new), parts of Hollywood Blvd., and the old neighborhood near Santa Monica and La Cienega, where the famous Barney’s Beanery is. Why see NEW THINGS when these old ones have so much class and so many memories?

Sorry I got so detailed, but I really did appreciate your editorial and wanted to share my opinion with you.”

S Grey
West Covina

Bob Aronoff of Pasadena sympathized with my complaint that restaurants are on a mission to make us fat and unhealthy! He recommended one pleace that doesn’t do that. “The place is called “Fanta-Sea” It is a seafood eatery. Plain vanilla kind of place with the emphasis on the food, not the decor. Almost everyhting is prepared from scratch. Service is personal and good.”
Thanks Bob. I’ll have to check it out.