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Teleconference Promotes Partnerships with Families

TC was one of the sites of the November 5th interactive teleconference that discussed how teachers can involve families in educating students.

As part of the teleconference, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Vice President Al Gore addressed participants.

Jonathan Gellis, a student in Instructional Technology Media in Education, watched the program from the TC teleconference site, the Goodman Room in Milbank Memorial Library.

"As technology moves into the next millennium," he said, "it is interesting to see where it is going. I am curious to see what the federal government's role is now and will be in the future."

Linda Levine, the chair of the Teacher Education Department at Bank Street College, also came to TC for the teleconference.

"I am here to learn about some of the innovative programs across the country that strengthen family involvement in education."

Secretary Riley introduced the discussions by saying that the teleconference built on the Family Re-Union 6: Families and Learning Conference held at Vanderbilt University in June, which was moderated by Vice President Gore and sponsored by the Children, Youth and Family Consortium. Vice President Gore and his wife, Tipper, created the Family Re-Union Conferences six years ago.

Panels of educators and parent groups were presented in the conference to discuss the roles of schools and families in education. Some of the issues that were raised included the increase in diversity of cultural backgrounds in schools and the change of family structures from a two-parent situation with the mother at home to both parents working or a one-parent home.

Panelists outlined examples of programs that lead to better communication and involvement between parents and teachers.

By creating a buddy system to bridge gaps between scattered parents, forming peer groups for parents and students, providing Family, Child and Teacher interaction courses, and bringing information about preparing children for school to parents of newborns, educators have found ways to bring families into the learning process.

Educators are also working with teachers by preparing them to work with families, having them visit families of kindergartners in the summer before children begin school or by treating children who speak two or three languages as gifted rather than impaired.

Some panelists noted that in-service education students may work with parents on literacy and math skills or work on evaluating a school's effectiveness in involving parents.

One of the panelists, Rita DeBrito, is a dual-immersion teacher at P.S. 87 in Manhattan, a professional development school closely affiliated with Teachers College.

"We welcome and need our parents at P.S. 87," she said. "We would not be able to bring the level of education that we do without their involvement."

Secretary Riley noted that parent involvement includes talking to teachers, setting up a place and time for homework, and monitoring television viewing time.

He stressed that parents need to communicate to their children the importance of school and the importance of doing homework. Secretary Riley added, "Partnership is a two-way street. Teachers should pull in parents and talk to them about working together."

Teachers College is developing a guidebook that will include research on and examples of effective practice and an evaluation guide for the preparation of teachers in involving families in education. The guide will cover preservice and inservice training.

"This is an important outreach activity for the College because it will reach hundreds of thousands of educators," said Peter Cookson, Director of the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation. "It is another signal of how important our commitment is to parental involvement in education."

The guide, which is being compiled by Cookson and Kimberly Jennings, a graduate student in the Sociology of Education Program, will be distributed to schools, teachers and administrators, heads of local parent associations, school board members and educator preparation programs across the country.

The teleconference was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education with the Partnership for Family Involvement and USA Today in cooperation with Teachers College, Bank Street College, the University of Minnesota, and Vanderbilt University.

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