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"Students who are successful in school usually have parents who take an intense interest in their education. That's why innovative educators emphasize the importance of parent involvement in any program aimed at improving academic performance.

When parents and schools are working together, the chances for success increase substantially. But the foundation for good learning is built well before students reach the school years.

Parents can set good examples for their children by reading books, newspapers and magazines as a regular part of home life. Children who grow up in homes where reading is emphasized most often become good readers and those reading skills help them achieve in school.

The experts tell us that it's never too early to read to your children. In fact, there is a wonderful Dr. Seuss book for expectant mothers called, 'Oh Baby, the Places You'll Go!" A Book to be Read in Utero.'

If you're reading to your children before they are born, the chances are pretty good that you will be closely involved in their education during their school years.

You can tell a lot about a students performance just by monitoring parental involvement. That point was made to me vividly a number of years ago when my wife taught fourth grade at Weldon Elementary School in Clovis. The teachers were having a mathematics competition and divided the fourth-graders into three groups based on their abilities in math.

The teachers also did a wise thing by inviting the parents to watch the competition and pointing out that every student had a chance of winning because they were grouped by ability. The pattern of attendance showed me the correlation between parent involvement and student performance.

Almost every parent showed up at the classroom where the top students were competing. But only about half the parents were watching the math competition between the average students. And just a handful of parents attended the classroom with the low-achieving students.

That wasn't a coincidence. The parents who could take time off from work or whom did not work outside the home most often were closely involved in their children's education.

Increasing parental involvement is at the core of most education reform programs.

'All kind of research tells us that when the parents are involved, kids do better,' Gov. Davis told reporters in January while announcing his education plan. 'But the same research tells us that parents and kids spent about a third less time together then a generation ago.'

The problem, of course, is there are fewer traditional families these days. Single parents must struggle just to feed their children and often don't have the flexibility in their jobs to take off a few hours in the middle of the day to attend a school performance. Many parents these days are barely adults themselves, and were school dropouts. They didn't want to see the inside of a school during their school years, and many are passing the same lessons on to their children.

Darrell Blanks, principal of Bethune Elementary School in southwest Fresno, has a number of challenges in getting parents involved at his school. A major problem is the language barriers in this racially diverse school. Many parents only speak Spanish, Hmong or Lao.

It's not surprising then that only one in five Bethune students can read at a grade level or that just over one-third of the students are on grade level in math.

That is not to say that parents who don't speak English are less committed to their children's education, but it is obviously more difficult for them to get involved in school activities or help their children with their homework.

Blanks said the school staff does all it can to make the parents feel welcome. At the start of the school year, parents are invited in for a day to discuss the curriculum and the expectations for the year. Bethune also has monthly parent meetings, with translators and baby sitting available. The school also relies on individual conferences with with parents to connect them with their children's education.

But many parents, especially those who don't speak English, remain intimidated by an education system that they often don't understand. That limits their participation.

Blanks and some of the teachers speak Spanish and that helps among Spanish-speaking parents. Translators in Hmong and Lao also attempt to make parents feel comfortable at the school.

Blanks said parental involvement is crucial to the success of students and he's committed to doing all that he can at Bethune.

'Of all the influences that happen in a student's life, the family influence is the greatest,' he said. 'That is where attitudes and opinions about learning are developed. That is where students get excited about learning.'"

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