Kaieem Crawford, 6, is a first-grader at Garfield Elementary where his mother Pam volunteers in the classroom, chaperones field trips and is a member of the Parent-Teacher Association. As a single parent with a career it can be a real juggling act sometimes, but Pam Crawford said she insists on playing a role in her son’s education.
“I want to know what he’s doing,” Crawford said. “I want to know what kind of education he’s getting.”
Pam and her son recently attended “family night” hosted by Garfield’s first grade teachers, Amy Gollinger and Lynn Yopchick. Garfield is at 543 Hannah Ave.
The evening was aimed at teaching parents how to use educational games to supplement classroom instruction, and more importantly to get parents involved in the school. Gollinger and Yopchick hold three such events each year.
While turnout for first grade family nights at Garfield Elementary is typically strong, members of the school’s PTA said it isn’t always easy to rally the troops.
Bonnie Doolin is the president of Garfield’s PTA and has been a member for the past six years. More organized and interactive recruiting tactics have benefited the group this year, Doolin said, but they’re always competing with work schedules and other demands placed on families.
“We find that whenever the teacher or a principal is backing the event, we get more people,” Doolin said.
According to the PTA’s vice president, Tracy Marakis, the elementary school group has 86 members and some 50 or 60 active volunteers. Marakis, also a six-year member, said fewer than 70 parents signed up last year and the rate of volunteerism was much lower.
“This year is definitely the most successful year in getting parents involved,” Marakis said.
Over the past three or four years, Gollinger said family night has gone over well with first-grade parents. For those who can’t make it, students are sent home with the supplies to play the games, Gollinger said.
Mark Gordon is an elementary school teacher in Berwyn, and his 6-year-old son Jake is in Gollinger’s class. Speaking as both a parent and an educator, Gordon said the benefits of parental involvement are clear.
“When the parents show they care the child will care more,” Gordon said.
Chicago is home to the national headquarters for the PTA where spokesperson James Martinez said the group is focusing on increasing its minority memberships. Hispanic and African-American families traditionally are not well represented in local PTAs, Martinez said, but the association’s definition of “minority” isn’t limited by race.
“We see fathers as a minority,” Martinez said. “Increasing parental involvement needs to include fathers.”
Gordon was one of only two fathers in Gollinger’s classroom recently, compared to seven mothers. A similar ratio was observed among the parents in Yopchick’s class. Anecdotally, Gordon suggested an increase in single-parent families may be to blame.
According to Martinez, the PTA has seen incremental increases nationally in the number of fathers joining the group over the past four years. However, men increased their leadership roles in the PTA by 50 percent between 2003 and 2005, Martinez said.
“The one thing that we’ve gathered from other surveys is that simply asking fathers to be involved increases father participation in PTA and education,” Martinez said. “Wives, mothers, spouses should just ask the father to be involved. This is the greatest recruitment effort that national PTA has seen.”