Why PRO Grants make a difference

 

It is in the details where things really matter in education. Last week the Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that the province was taking a ‘pause’ in the awarding of Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants. The news got some attention on social media, but do people really understand the impact of this move on parents?

Doug Ford’s government has no doubt found more ‘efficiencies’ by cutting a few million from the education budget, but he has done this on the backs of low-income parents across the province. This is a pretty simple grab by a callous and cynical government who clearly understands that few will really protest the loss of the grants.

In the affluent school communities, the workshops funded through PRO Grants (see a partial list below) will be made up through fundraising in the community. This is one of the unseen inequities in Ontario’s schools. Communities that have the money to support their schools generally have a healthy account that parents can put to use in a whole variety of ways including funding the programs previously supported through the PRO Grant.

a partial list of PRO Grants awarded in the Ottawa area. For a full list go here.

 

In poorer communities, this financial padding is simply not available. PRO Grants allow parents to make a significant impact on the life of the school and in many cases, this was the only money they have during the year to hold significant events for the parent community.

This is the message we used to get from the Ministry of Education. It was positive, empowering and respectful.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2017-18 Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants!

We invite your school council to apply for a 2017-18 Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grant. We know that good schools become great schools when parents are involved in their children`s learning and well-being. PRO Grants for School Councils support projects that help parents identify barriers to parent engagement in their own community and develop local strategies to address these barriers in support of student achievement and well-being.

PRO Grants are available to school councils for a maximum of $1,000.

School councils of publicly funded schools may develop applications individually, in partnership with other school councils, or with other parent or community groups. When partnering with another school council, each school council is responsible for submitting its own application.

I left the date – 2017, this was the last time I had the chance to work with our Parent Council to apply for the PRO Grant. In these years, the Ministry went even farther to make sure money reached low-income parent communities. As long as the ministry received an application, schools like ours were guaranteed to receive the funds they applied for. This was so important, it allowed us to plan events with the certainty that the funds we needed would be granted. This gave low-income schools an advantage. We didn’t have many so it was really good to get some recognition of the disadvantages faced by many families in Ontario.

St. Anthony BBQs became great events for our entire community. These gatherings were funded through the PRO Grant

It is really important for governments to ensure that all parents have a voice and that all parents are empowered. In poorer communities, the parent community has few tools to ensure that they have an impact. We won’t hear from them about the loss of the PRO Grant and this makes it even more important that we talk about the injustice in this most recent provincial action.

The current government is not ‘respecting the taxpayers’ by stopping these grants, they are taking something important from parents who want to be involved in their schools. They are making it harder to engage the parent community in our schools.

If the minister truly cares about the parent community in Ontario she will make a quick reversal of this ill-considered decision.

A good public system needs effective participation by all parents, this action only weakens this system.

 

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Making Learning Visible – Connect with parents using social media

These are the notes from a recent webinar that I did.  I wanted to make sure people were able to get the links we discussed during the session.  My first webinar – a very interesting experience!

We started with a prezi that I have used and modified for a few years.  It covers a whole host of communication tools, but every time I ask people what they are most interested in it turns out to be blogging.  Today seemed to be the same.

The importance of blogging with your parent community

I use a variety of blogs for a variety of purposes:

The SAN Script – daily to keep in touch with staff and put out information of interest. http://stanthonycatholic.edublogs.org/

St. Anthony Connects: A weekly blog to the parent community http://stanthonyconnects.edublogs.org/

Both these blogs are Edublogs – http://edublogs.org/ easily my favorite type of blog. It is a WordPress blog with an incredible help desk. I pay around $7.00 a month for each blog and it is money well spent. The assistance from their technical staff is excellent and that is the most important factor for me. There are also lots of great extra features like more templates, special fonts, print friendly button, contact us box and many additional features. When you get a pro subscription you also have at least 50 other blogs you can set up.

Teach Talk – https://paulmcguire1.wordpress.com/ and Principal Musings http://principalmusingsoneducation.blogspot.ca/ that I use to write about various topics in education.

This is from Blogger a great blogging tool to start with

The main importance of blogging is keeping in contact with your community. Better than a monthly newsletter you can put it out as often as you want. Parents can subscribe to the blog or you can send out the link.  With our community, the blog can be translated into several different languages, a really valuable asset in a community with a high immigrant base.

The community blog does things that a monthly newsletter simply cannot do including

  • Schedule for the week
  • Photographs – from the past week
  • Teacher notes – for the upcoming week – a really important feature!!
  • Teacher links to newsletters and blogs
  • Translatable into many other languages
  • You can embed videos for personal messages using apps like Touchcast

Here is a recent Touchcast I put out on the blog as well as our facebook and Twitter Page – just another way to get your message out there!

Social media apps -Twitter,Facebook,Flickr, Instagram

 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/StAnthonyOCSB

We have 265 followers following 402 – the Twitter Page is one great tool that we use daily to post photos and updates on what is going on at our school.  We also link our Google Calendar up to Twitter so events get posted twice.

 

Facebook: We have over 100 likes on our Facebook Page and it is a great way to make the school experience more real for parents.  We post videos, pictures announcements and interesting information for parents on the page.  The most important thing to remember for Twitter and Facebook – post interesting material often.  Focusing on the students is one of the best ways to engage your parents.

https://www.facebook.com/St.AnthonySchoolOttawa

Facebook also will give you some really useful statistics on your audience reach.  We reach as many as 120 people with some of our posts!

 

 

Instagram – slide 7  

https://instagram.com/stanthonyocsb/

This is a great way to get the perfect moment to the parents.  Parents can sign up to follow Instagram and the photos will show up right in their inbox.  The photos are also posted directly to Twitter.

  

Challenges of connecting to hard-to-reach parent communities

How do we engage? By making students the center of the story.  We make short videos of sporting events and post them to Twitter and Facebook.  The kids love them so my hope is the students will lead their parents to our sites.  Here is a short one made using iMovie.

Finally, in the dying minutes of the webinar we started to address hard to reach communities.  We had the opportunity to hear Joe Mazza @Joe_Massa a few times this week.  He brought up all sorts of good ideas on how we can engage communities.  I have included a Storify here that encompasses some of the main points in his presentation.

Storify of Tweets: https://storify.com/mcguirp/ocsb-forum-with-joe-mazza

We finished on a great question – how to you ensure the safety of the student?

We address this by obtaining informed consent from the parent. We are careful never to publish the names of students and we do our best not to take pictures of students where parents are uncomfortable with social media.

Here is a sample of a letter we have used – we would love to see other examples of letters schools use.

Conversation with Joanna Crapsi – Roxborough Park School on Parent Engagement

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This morning I had an amazing conversation with the principal of Roxborough Park School regarding some of the parent engagement work she is doing at her school.  This is terrific work that needs to receive more exposure.  All these ideas are things that we would love to do at our school.
Joanna has been working on these programs for four years.  Here are some of the essential points from today.
1)  Funding is important to hire teachers to work with the student groups that have been targeted for additional academic coaching and to pay for the meals that take place after each session.
2)  The program is invitational – staff and admin make personal contact with the family to invite them to take part in the tutoring and the parent component of the program.
3)  Community partners are important to act as facilitators for the sessions identified by the parents.  Very important to coach facilitators that sessions are to be designed to create a dialogue rather than straight information sessions.
4)  Essential point – parents choose the sessions they are interested in – they design their own learning program during their first session at the school.  Topics have included, health and wellness, safety, stress management, how to finish high school, EQAO, how to read with your child – to name just a few.
5)  The sessions run twice a week for 15 weeks.  Tutoring is from 3:00PM – 4:30PM and the parent session is from 3:30PM – 4:30 PM.  All sessions conclude with a meal for the parents, students, facilitators and teachers.
6)  Child care needs to be in place.
7)  Your school is also running a special ELL initiative which sounds really interesting, it would be good to hear more about that.
This would be a terrific workshop idea at any educational conference.  We all know that parent engagement is important, the ‘how to’ is not as well known.
Any ideas that you would add to this list?