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Taking the Pledge: Parents Promise to Help Schools

February 05, 1987|DENISE-MARIE SANTIAGO and LARRY ALTMAN | Times Staff Writers

Churchgoers in El Monte were urged to mend their ways and take the pledge last Sunday.

But instead of salvation, the message was aimed at getting parents more involved in their children's schooling.

"We are deeply concerned about the education of our children and we need your help," said Luis Ortiz, one of several parents, school administrators and teachers who shared the pulpit with the clergy in 21 churches.

Signing the Pledge

At Nativity Catholic Church, Ortiz urged parents to sign pledges committing themselves "to help improve student achievement in public and Catholic schools."

Parents were asked to promise to limit their children's television viewing, help with schoolwork, attend parent-teacher conferences and to read with their children for at least 15 minutes a day.

So far, school officials have received pledges from 300 parents and expect to get more.

"I think the pledges call attention to what should be done in the homes," Frank Ogaz, a father of four, said after listening to El Monte School Supt. Duane Dishno and other speakers at Santa Anita Wesleyan Church.

"Hopefully, it will be followed up in the home," said Ogaz, who signed a pledge with his wife, Yolanda.

Getting Parents Involved

This was the most recent effort by the El Monte City School District to get parents more involved in their children's education.

About 5,000 parents of elementary school students signed similar pledges during a rally at El Monte High School last year. The rally was co-sponsored by school officials and the Quality Education Project, a private foundation set up in 1982 to help districts throughout the state get more parent participation in the schools.

"We're trying to get 100% of the parents involved this year," said Nancy Honig, president of the San Francisco-based foundation, which sponsored "Education Sunday."

"Children will listen to their teachers. Adults will listen to their preachers and pastors," she said. "We want adults to take responsibility for their children."

The Quality Education Project has targeted four districts in the state which it believes are lacking in parent participation: El Monte, Oakland, Ravenswood near Palo Alto and Fremont near San Francisco.

In the 50,000-student Oakland Unified School District, an "Education Sunday" two years ago and other efforts resulted in 25,000 parents pledging to read to their children.

Increasing Pleasure of Reading

"Part of the purpose was to increase students' enjoyment of reading," said Marian Magid, a spokeswoman for the Oakland district. "We felt that by encouraging parents and students to read together, that would certainly get students to enjoy reading."

She said school officials telephoned parents who had signed pledges to find out whether they were carrying them out.

In addition, the district has tried other things to get more students to read, such as encouraging schools to have daily 15-minute silent reading periods for students and school staff.

Magid said that a year after the pledge effort began, test scores on the reading portion of the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills, used by 80% of the districts in the state, had increased by as much as 5% for some grades.

"We think that the pledge is part of the story," Magid said.

Dishno hopes to see similar results in his district, which includes 10,500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

"If we get parents to be more actively involved, that in itself will be a positive impact on test scores and student achievement," Dishno said.

Dishno said 74% of the district's students are Latino, about 5% are Asian and most of the rest are Caucasian.

"Reading is the area where we have the most problems," Dishno said. "A lot of the kids who come to us do not speak English.

"It's not like a middle-class community where those kids have had a lot of language experiences and they come to us ready to read," Dishno said.

Monitoring Pledges

Dishno said the district will monitor the pledge campaign by telephoning parents to ask if they are reading to their children and checking pupils' performance in the classroom.

The pledges also will be used during parent-teacher conferences to remind parents of their promises, he said.

After services at Trinity Reformed Church, Stuart Dunn, principal of Cherrylee School, told about 30 church members that parents must begin teaching their children at home since children do not begin school until age 5.

Soon after birth, children should be shown colors and shapes, he said. "You can't send just send them to kindergarten and say, 'Read.' "

Dunn also said parents should tell their children that homework is not a punishment, that sometimes even adults need to bring work home. "It creates a sense of responsibility in children."

Ways to Teach Children

Several Trinity members suggested other methods parents should use to educate their children.

Vi Bisbee said adults should listen more to their children. Too many times, she said, parents tell their children to be quiet instead of talking with them.

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