Embracing new opportunities

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Stephen Pruitt

I can’t believe it’s August again. I hope you all enjoyed some much-needed rest and time with your families over the summer break. Let me be one of the first to officially say “Welcome back!”

I’m sure this will antagonize some students who are mournfully counting down the last days of their summer vacation, but I always get excited about the start of a new school year. Every school year is like a new beginning, full of new opportunities to set goals and challenge yourself.

For students, the start of the school year means a new classroom, a new teacher, new classmates and the chance to dig into projects that both excite and educate. Fall always offers brand new opportunities for every student to learn and grow.

For educators, we also get the chance to start over every August. Before we get busy in the everyday realities of grading assignments, staff meetings and open houses, we all have the chance to reflect on what happened last year, expand on what worked and change what didn’t. It’s a brand new opportunity to fine tune our teaching skills and help our students find their passions.

The 2017-18 school year also offers new opportunities for two other groups that play a vital roles in our schools – parents and community members. Parents are the ones who encourage their children and urge them to do their best every day. They reinforce everything a student is taught in a classroom. Parents are the ones who help shape a child’s expectations for what it is they want to do with their lives and the role that education plays in those dreams.

And make no mistake, parental involvement at schools is important. A 2002 publication by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory that looked at a host of studies connecting student performance to parental involvement showed a strong correlation between parental involvement and student success. No matter what income or background, students whose parents were involved in their schools were more likely to earn higher grades, attend school regularly, graduate and continue their education beyond high school.

When I talk about parental involvement, I’m not talking about spending all day, every day, in your child’s school. Parents can be involved as little or as much as they want. Showing that you support your child’s education and their teachers can include everything from serving on the school-based decision making council and chaperoning a field trip, to volunteering at a school event or providing snacks for a classroom celebration. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher about different opportunities he or she may have that will allow you to be involved in your child’s school and education.

Although we’ve long had a vision in our heads of how important parental involvement is to schools, it’s only been in the past few decades that we, as educators, have really started fully exploring the value and necessity of getting other members of the community into our classrooms. Business leaders, elected officials and everyday citizens all can serve an important role.

Educators often turn to members of the community to talk to their students about potential careers. Business leaders open their doors for field trips, which expand student learning by showing them how the things they are learning in the classroom apply to the world of work. Business and community leaders also are central to helping students with job shadowing, co-op opportunities and apprenticeships, not to mention being vital partners – and even funders – in many school-based projects.

We at KDE have found business and community leaders invaluable in our work. They have provided deep insights into our new accountability system and have been involved in redesigning our standards. We know that education and business must work together to expand learning opportunities for Kentucky’s students.

We’re already hard at work developing innovative ways to include the business community in education through a $2 million grant from the Council of Chief State School Officers and JPMorgan Chase to strengthen and expand career education pathways for students. In the New Skills for Youth initiative, we’re creating regional hubs where multiple school districts are partnering with a postsecondary institution to offer training that is tailored to meet the needs of employers in each region. Those employers will work with K-12 and postsecondary education to help create seamless pathways for students to get the credentials and the certifications they need to walk out of the classroom and into a good-paying job.

If you’re not involved in education but would like to be, a new school year provides an ideal time to start. Call your local school board office and ask them where your expertise would make the biggest difference for students in your community. Or you can reach out to a school and ask them what their biggest needs are, either in materials or volunteers. It could involve speaking at a career day, helping ensure a class has the supplies they need for a special project or even working one-on-one a few hours a week with a student who needs some extra support to succeed. The choice is yours.

Yes, August can be an exciting time of year for all of us. It is a time of change, a time of opportunities and a time of wonderful possibilities. Regardless of whether you are a teacher, principal, parent, business owner or community member, we all can have a role to play in helping ensure Kentucky’s children are prepared for the future. Let’s make this school year a great one!

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