• The Importance of Family Involvement in Education

    By Donna Lasinski on February 17, 2014
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    family involvement in education - sending kids off to school

    How can we know if a child will succeed in school? One of the most accurate predictors of a student’s success is how involved his family is in his education.

    As a parent, I know I have struggled with what the phrase “family involvement” in education really means. Does involved mean a helicopter parent or tiger parent or neither?

    Fortunately, researchers have been asking the same question and have identified three characteristics of families that enable children to succeed:

    • A home environment that encourages learning,
    • High, yet reasonable, expectations for children’s achievement and futures, and
    • Involvement in their children’s school and community.

    As an educator, I need to understand why it is important to place building family involvement at the top of my priority list. As it turns out, what is good for the family is good for the classroom.

    Students who have engaged parents:

    1. Achieve more regardless of socio-economic status or ethnic/racial background
    2. Score higher on tests and have higher grades
    3. Graduate at higher rates and enroll in post-secondary education at higher rates

    This puts building family engagement in education at the top of the my agenda both personally and professionally and is the number one reason I developed the Parent Guide to Summer as a part of the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program in addition to the other aspects of the program designed to help parents understand summer learning loss and steps they can take to prevent it.

    How does your school rate on family engagement? What could they be doing better? Leave a comment below– I’d love to hear your take on family involvement in education.

  • The Newest Buzz Word!

    By Donna Lasinski on October 25, 2013
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    Family Engagement at schoolParent involvement! Family engagement! Community partners! We all realize that more than just student and teacher are important to the success of a child.

    As I developed the Parent Guide to Summer, putting together groups of parents to share their ideas and experiences was the key.  Schools must build a bridge to families that they feel comfortable crossing. This means seeking direct parent input into the types of support and environments that make them the most likely to participate and succeed.

    Sometimes in the crush of classroom schedules to work around, curriculum to be taught, and school procedures to follow, we forget how powerful the personal invitation is to successful parent and family involvement.

    I began my involvement in public schools simply because I was asked by a neighbor. The treasurer of the parent group was moving and she knew I was business-minded. So, with a brand new Kindergartener, a toddler and a newborn baby, I attended my first parent group meeting.

    We can also forget how intimidating it can be to be a parent in a school setting. It took me years to call our principal by her first name, although she encouraged me repeatedly.

    As I have worked with parent groups to increase their parent involvement with schools, I have found that it is critical to provide parents with both tangible support resources and a welcoming attitude. If either is missing, parents find it especially difficult to contribute meaningfully to their school and their child’s education.

    And the decades of research shows it is worth the effort! When parents are involved students have:

    –  Higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates

    –  Better school attendance

    –  Increased motivation, better self-esteem

    –  Lower rates of suspension

    –  Decreased use of drugs and alcohol

    –  Fewer instances of violent behavior

    So, the next time you’re seeking parent involvement or support – ask yourself, when is the last time you reached out to encourage it? The ThinkStretch Parent Guide to Summer is designed to make families feel welcome and understand their importance in the education of their child as well as provide a resource for parents to reference. Learn more about using ThinkStretch to support family involvement in the prevention of summer learning loss.

  • “Learning to Read” and “Reading to Learn”

    By Donna Lasinski on October 18, 2013
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    ThinkStretch - keep learning to read!A subtle turn of phrase – Learning to Read versus Reading to Learn – but a sea change in a child’s education. The transition from lower-el to upper-el marks a moment in education that can define a child’s future success, or so we have been told.

    After 3rd grade, it is has long been assumed that a child can read well enough to absorb new information without continued reading practice and instruction. This myth in education began to become ”commonplace” knowledge in the 1990s based on the work of a Harvard professor.

    Many teachers took this as permission to abandon reading instruction for the upper elementary and focus on curriculum content. However, reading is a complicated a process that requires continued instruction as text and materials change.

    Working on ThinkStretch, I am often questioned about the “best” grade in which to support summer learning and prevent summer learning loss. Some schools want to just focus on 2nd graders heading to 3rd grade so that they can make their 3rd grade reading proficiency benchmark.

    This is a narrow view from two perspectives. First, if the students have not maintained their reading skills over the summer from Kindergarten through 2nd grade, they are likely already 6-9 months behind target, having been affected by summer learning loss already. Second, maintaining reading skills while in upper elementary is equally crucial, as the text students have to absorb becomes more nuanced and complex.

    As parents and educators, we need to support our students’ need to read outside of school time, both during the school year and in the summer, to maintain and increase their reading skill. ThinkStretch is a summer learning program specially designed to support parents and educators aiming to do just that. Learn more about using ThinkStretch to prevent summer learning loss.

  • 96,000 Minutes of Reading

    By Donna Lasinski on September 25, 2013
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    On their 3rd year of using the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program, everyone at Abbot Elementary had reason to be proud this fall as students, parents and teachers celebrated the completion of over 120 ThinkStretch Summer Learning books. Just over the course of last summer alone, Abbot students read over 96,000 minutes, completed over 30,000 math facts and wrote in excess of 7,680 journal entries.

    ThinkStretch Abbott Elementary Gold Medals 2013

    Abbot Elementary is a school of just under 300 students, with nearly 40% representing an ethnic minority and over 1/3 of students eligible for the free lunch program. A neighborhood school that draws from 1950s era brick ranches as well as low income housing units, Abbott is a close knit community of teachers and parents, according to current parents.

    However, Abbot has it challenges. Representing a cross section of the larger community, not all students at Abbot have equal access to summer learning opportunities. Principal Pam Sica recognizes the detrimental effect that summer learning loss has on every student and the cumulative effect it has on her most at-risk students.

    In 2010, Principal Sica brought the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program to Abbot Elementary. Offering a grade specific summer workbook and a parent guide to summer to every K-4 student, Principal Sica began building a culture of summer learning at her school.  At a kick off with students, a short DVD of the Professor sending his Brain on summer vacation humorously explained to students why they needed to keep learning over the summer.

    The students took the message to heart and have displayed perseverance completing their summer learning activities. The first summer was a test of faith. Students had to believe that if they read, practiced math and wrote over the summer that Principal Sica would come through with the promised reward.

    The very first summer, about 80 students completed their books for a gold medal. That was just the beginning, now finishing their 3rd summer, students at Abbot earned over 120 gold medals, a 50% increase from the first summer.

    Abbot elementary now has an established school culture of year round learning. When the school door closes on the academic year, students pick up the challenge and continue their learning throughout the summer with the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program. The stories of their fun with home science activities thrill their teachers, who welcome students to the new year with achievement medals for the students efforts and new material learn!

    “I am so happy we went with this program!” praises Principal Sica.

    I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity for ThinkStretch to help the kids at Abbot combat summer learning loss. If you’re interested in how to get started in setting up a summer learning program at your school, visit www.thinkstretch.com to learn more.

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