The Director's Corner: On Family Involvement

At The Magnolia School, we do expect a lot of family involvement. And it is not just economic involvement, in the sense that our budget does rely on tuition and on parents' help for maintenance jobs and projects. We will never be able to thank enough those dedicated families who generously donate their time, talents and resources to maintain and beautify the campus. Even more importantly, we are talking about educational involvement. As stated often in this column, we strive to be a Community of Learners that includes students and teachers, of course, but also parents. There is no stronger motivator, especially for our younger students, than a parent truly involved in their education; and early involvement helps older students accept, if not welcome, continued involvement. Family involvement covers being aware of what is going on at school, by attending our Educational Night and Community Meeting at the beginning of the year, by checking posted signs, classroom bulletin boards, parent pockets, emails, and the newsletter in digital or paper form, and, if still in doubt, contacting teachers or directors; we do devote a lot of efforts communicating with families, but are aware that not all modes of communication fit individual situations and are always willing to try new avenues.

The more aware you are of what is going on at school, the better you can offer supporting activities to your child outside of school, be it a trip to a museum or to the library, or a choice of documentary on the weekend, and the better you can support your child with homework too; we do not assign much, but learning to keep track and complete homework is very important to develop executive skills such as organization and prioritization, as well as to develop a sense of responsibility; be aware that children are not born with mature executive skills and that teachers at school and parents at home need to lend the child their own executive skills until the child's skills are mature enough.

Involvement also covers making oneself available for student/parents/teacher conferences. These only come around three times a year and constitute our way to directly communicate with families about student progress, possible concerns and suggested plans of action. We have recently implemented a more unified system of conference forms to provide families with written feedback, but please understand that these are meant to support, not replace, the live conferences. Hearing your and your student's feedback and suggestions at conferences is irreplaceable.

Family involvement also covers participating as much as possible in school events such as theme dinners or fairs (where students work is often showcased), and family camping trips. Volunteering in the classrooms is another way to contribute to your child's education: even if you help or make a presentation in a classroom other than your child's, your child knows you are around and care about the school.

And PTO meetings, of course, are another venue to be part of the school community year round. Families are also encouraged to participate in or make suggestions related to guilds and themes and/or to submit an article for publication in this Magnolia School Community newsletter.

Are we asking too much? Actually, apart from suggesting family participation in camping trips and welcoming family members inside the classroom at any time, we are not asking anything different from other schools, whether private or public. Every teacher in the country is hoping for parent involvement. Every study points to the importance of family involvement in education. And everyone is aware how busy parents are. We are just trying to spell out and facilitate what family involvement is.

As you read our Theme News and discover we are expecting students to complete a "family project" in the course of our new Transportation theme, please do not panic. Due date is seven weeks away, a list of suggested projects will be coming your way soon, and of course you and your child can come up with your own project. This is going to be a great opportunity for you to sit in front of a calendar with your child and make a plan: choosing a topic by such date, getting materials by such other date, building a prototype, if applicable, by still another date and completing the project by a date ahead of the due date (just in case). This is supposed to be exciting and fun. Organizing and planning will help both you and your child feel in control and have fun together. If you are panicking nevertheless, please contact one of us, we will figure out how to support your family through the process.

Magnolia teachers headed to Conscious Discipline Institute

For a week this summer Sharon, Sunshine, Pam and Katy will attend the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute with Dr. Becky Bailey. The training begins on Sunday, July 7 and continues until Saturday, July 13. This event is not a workshop, but an experience in which the concepts and principles of Conscious Discipline come to life with real examples, real practice and real connections. Leon County School’s IDEA will cover the registration expenses through a generous No Child Left Behind grant. The Magnolia School will pay for the travel, hotel and meal expenses. Thank you to Leon County for making this valuable experience possible!

The teachers are very excited for this unique opportunity to learn first-hand from Dr. Bailey as The Magnolia School continues to work toward trengthening the family spirit that makes our school special. 

Director's Corner: On Solicitation

We are well aware that we do solicit our community a lot. We ask for help for outreach events, fundraising events, community service events, work days; we convene meetings; we hope for PTO participation and committee work; we encourage attendance at school events and camping trips; we tap into parents’ expertise and talent for our themes; all that on top of four hours per month of work for participating tuition families. We are aware that this represents a lot of time, and sometimes some expenses. We are also aware that it may feel overwhelming to those of you who cannot avoid feeling guilty if you do not answer all solicitations. We ask for help because we need it, as all non-profits with a tight budget do, but we want to make clear that we do not wish for anyone to feel pestered or burnt out. We do worry when we always see the same people stepping forward. We would love to spread the work as widely as possible. To avoid guilt and burn-out, and to promote joyful participation, we suggest you “budget” your time in advance. Maybe you can afford the time to attend just one out of six or so outreach events. Maybe you cannot plan to be present at PTO meetings regularly but are available to serve on either the Facilities or the Outreach committees (created by the Board of Directors and open to all interested Magnolia community members). Maybe your heart is into community service and nothing else, or into guilds. Whatever your level of participation, we welcome it and are grateful for it. Everything you do enriches our community.

On our side, we pledge to do our best to advertise upcoming events and activities as early as possible. A number of them are already in the 2011-12 school calendar; the others make their way into the newsletter, on the elementary school front door, in email announcements throughout the year, and sign-up sheets appear on the elementary school kitchen door. It is, again, a lot to keep track of. Please consider letting us know what your participation preferences are, and we’ll make an extra effort to ensure you are informed accordingly. Thanks for all you do.

Director's Corner: On Community

The first big date on the school calendar is our Magnolia Community meeting on Tuesday, August 30th, 5:45–7:30pm. This meeting is a more structured opportunity than our Back to School Party to welcome everyone and introduce new and older members of the Magnolia Community to each other. It is a time to reflect on the school’s philosophy and practices, for past years families to report on what they liked and to suggest changes, and it is a time for everyone to make goals. We will introduce The Magnolia School Handbook, talk about procedures, housekeeping matters, communication and the importance of parents' participation. This meeting also doubles as the first Parent Teacher Organization meeting of the school year and will be the opportunity to elect PTO officers and select those goals the PTO will want to pursue in 2010–11. The second big date will be our Parent Education Night on Tuesday, September 6th, 5:45–7:30pm. The aim of that meeting is to explain in more detail how students are taught, how the classrooms function in practice, as well as to address the questions that may have arisen during the first two weeks of class.

The concept of community is central to who we are. We view our setting as an extension of home, a safe place where the learning that happens naturally at home gets solidified through more systematic instruction. We wish for our students to view their parents as part of their educators, to view their teachers as part of their family, and to view parents and teachers alike as guides into the wider community. Learning is a natural joyful activity to very young children, it needs to remain so as they become older, not become just what one does at school.

To achieve this vision, we pledge each year to do our best to keep families informed of what is about to happen, what is happening, what just happened at school, using this newsletter, bulletin boards and electronic messaging. This way, families can step in to offer their expertise for an upcoming activity or general theme, and/or they can support at home or in the community the learning that occurs at school by checking out relevant books or movies, taking their child to a relevant exhibit, etc…Having family members participate in school activities helps students understand the concept of being a community of learners. So do visits from alumni and their family members.

Being a small non profit organization with a tight budget, we rely on the members of our community for help in advertising and fundraising (mostly through PTO participation) and for help with a lot of the maintenance and embellishment of our campus (during Work Days). Working together to promote and embellish the school and taking pride in our work is another great way to build our community year after year. So are our “theme dinners” or other celebrations involving families at the end of each theme, and our fall and spring family camping trips. We also want our students to understand that they are part of a wider community to which they can contribute. To this effect, the school gets involved in several community service activities each year and the middle school curriculum includes service projects.

Our diverse community includes families from all walks of life who are always fun to bring together. We are excited to welcome 9 new families and 9 new students this year and look forward to getting to know them all better. Remember that child care is provided on meeting nights and that siblings are welcome. See you all next Tuesday, August 30, for our Community meeting.