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Invisible Involvement and Backpack Dumps
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With the beginning of a new school year, I often get asked how parents can help students to be successful in school. Over the years, my thoughts on this topic have evolved quite a bit. As a result, I have come to be a big proponent of what I call "invisible involvement."

In the year 2013, many families have work and other responsibilities that make the traditional kinds of involvement difficult. I believe that schools need to be sensitive to this reality and provide ways for parents to be involved in ways other than what might have previously been the norm. I also believe that families can do a number of things that while not directly seen by the school, can be very powerful in terms of student success. This is where "invisible involvement" comes in.

What is "invisible involvement?" It’s really pretty simple stuff. One of the basic and most important things is to consistently talk about why school and education are important. Kids often act like they don’t hear what adults say, but in reality, they listen very carefully. Reinforcing the importance of education on a regular basis is critical. Reminding students how what they are learning applies in the "real world" is even more important.

Other parts of invisible involvement are purely practical. Making sure kids get enough sleep, eat a reasonable diet, get regular exercise, read and have a quiet place to do homework go a long way to enabling them to be successful. These are also habits that will help students to be successful beyond their school years. (By the way, I’m not saying junk food and video games need to be banished; everything in moderation.)

Another part of invisible involvement is helping students to be organized. As a parent, I found it a good practice to talk with my son about how his week shaped up, with emphasis on when he had tests and quizzes, when projects were due, and how he planned to budget his time to take care of these responsibilities. When he was in elementary and middle school, my wife and I also found a very effective practice to be a weekly "backpack dump." We literally had him empty out his backpack on the kitchen floor. It was always interesting, and sometimes kind of funny. But it really helped us help him to build his organizational skills. It’s not enough to just tell kids to be more organized. We have to help them to figure it out.

All this being said, our district provides a lot of tools to support invisible involvement. Many of our schools utilize agenda books in which students write assignments and other information. Looking at the agenda book on a regular—if not daily—basis and expecting students to keep their agendas up to date is a great way to help them stay organized. All of our schools send home interim reports at the midpoint of every grading period, which is another excellent way to keep up with how students are doing and to help address problems at the early stage.

The district also provides some outstanding Internet resources. Parent Portal enables parents to monitor student grades and attendance at any hour of the day or night. (Just contact the school to sign up.) Teachers are expected to maintain Web sites which include what is being taught that week, assignments and test and quiz dates. This information can be especially useful when a parent asks, "What happened in school today?" (As we know, kids often answer "Nothing" to this question.) Similarly, school Web sites and Facebook pages can provide parents with important information about what is going on at school and about special events and programs.

All of this can be done without coming to school. Of course, we welcome parents coming to school to attend activities, volunteer and talk with school staff. But I believe that invisible involvement is a meaningful way for families to help kids to succeed even when getting to school might not always be possible.

Let me say one more thing…..As kids get older, they naturally start to push adults away. While having Mom or Dad visit in elementary school might have been a very big deal, it might be seen as the height of embarrassment in middle school. As students enter middle school, parents and families sometimes feel like they should pull away. Quite the contrary. It’s been my experience that the level of involvement in middle and high school has to be even more intense, though maybe in a somewhat different form. This might sound counter to conventional wisdom. But the reality is that the issues and decisions faced by students as they get older are more complex and have many more long-term implications. Our children need our guidance more than ever as they get older, even if they don’t think so.

I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is frank.mor gan@kcsdschools.net. Citizens can also contact me through the "Ask the Super" link on the homepage of the district Web site. I also invite folks to read my "blog" and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights. Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed at on our award-winning Web site, www.kershaw.k12.sc.us.

(KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan is a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)