Community & Parents for Public Schools is starting its second parent volunteer mentorship program, but has faced challenges in finding ongoing funding.
After piloting an award-winning parent engagement model at Seattle’s Dearborn Park International Elementary School last year, Community & Parents for Public Schools (CPPS) has expanded this year to Roxhill Elementary.
But the Parent Volunteer Mentorship Program, while showing promising results, has come up against a number of challenges, especially finding enough money to sustain and expand the effort, said Stephanie Alter Jones, executive director of CPPS.
The program is based on the success of a longtime parent engagement program run by a nonprofit in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. In 2014, Alter Jones decided to bring that model to Seattle, and started with Dearborn Park. This year, her group is also working at Roxhill, and has recruited a group of parents who will spend 100 hours in classrooms over the course of a school year, and attend a weekly training session. That works out to roughly six hours a week.
In the first year of the program, Alter Jones said, one parent spent time in a third-grade classroom and said she had a new-found respect for how hard teachers work with students at different learning levels.
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“They really realized how much support the teachers needed, that it wasn’t just… my kid isn’t performing, therefore the teacher is doing something wrong,” Alter Jones said.
Last year at Dearborn Park International, eight parents participated for the whole school year. Now CPPS is getting two new cohorts up and running– six parents at Dearborn, including two returning parents who are serving as coordinators-in-training, and 10 parents at Roxhill.
The challenges, said Alter Jones, have been substantial.
They’ve had parents who want to participate, but had a job opportunity come up, or they were in school and had schedule conflicts. And for parents with children at home, finding childcare can be another barrier to participation. For all those reasons and more, CPPS has had difficulty building a cohort and keeping it together for an entire semester or school year.
Another challenge is teacher and principal turnover, which can present problems for a program that is highly dependent on buy-in from school staff. The goal, Alter Jones said, is for staff to see the program as complementary to their work rather than an onerous add-on.
But the greatest challenge is funding. Alter Jones said she knows of at least four or five schools that are interested, but she doesn’t have money to support that. She said it costs about $15,000 to run the program in each school each year.
“This is a low-cost program, but it’s also high impact for a few as opposed to distributed impact for many,” Alter Jones said. “So it’s hard for a school to spend $15,000 to fund the whole program. That’s not likely given economics of education right now.”
She said she went to a funding workshop where she pitched the program and the response she got was, “Wait, you’re paying people to volunteer? That doesn’t make sense.”
They aren’t paying people to volunteer, she said, but they do offer an honorarium for the time that parents put in because it’s significant and provides an incentive to those who may not otherwise have gotten involved.
She said that CPPS works with parents who often don’t feel qualified to work in schools because they don’t have a lot of education, or weren’t educated in the United States. “But that’s the reason for the program,” she said. “When they engage in the system, they understand it better, which benefits their kids and their families and it benefits the schools.”
This post has been updated to clarify that the two returning parents at Dearborn are serving as coordinators-in-training.