Word Magazine October 1977 Page 14
GETTING PARENTS INVOLVED
Dr. John Boojamra
One of the main complaints from both parish clergy and church school teachers is the almost total lack of parental involvement and the feeling that the work of the church school is not supported by the parents at home. Part of the problem is parent apathy, but part of the problem is also the failure of the parish to try to actually involve the parents, or let them know how important they are, or introduce them to the work of the Sunday School. In most cases the family is simply ignored.
The first thing to do is to let the parents know they are important and that they can be helpful. There are several possible techniques for introducing the parents to the work of the church school and inviting their participation not only in the home and in getting the kids to the class on time, but in the actual process of the church school program. The following will outline an approach based on getting some information to the parents to enable them to fulfill their roles as Christian Parents more effectively. One of the most creative and effective ways to motivate people is to convince them that you want to help them to do their jobs. Largely, the parents I have met are in fact saying to us that they need us, the parish priest and the teacher, to tell them that they are capable of contributing to the conscious religious growth of their children. The first step in the process is to let them know what you are trying to do with their children in the church school.
The church school might try a rather common practice of a family communion breakfast. Instead, however, of having it for the entire church school at one time, have it only for one or two grades at the most at one time. Hold these weekly at the beginning of the church school year and run them consecutively for as many weeks as necessary until you have covered the entire church school. In order to avoid wasting time, do not allow any of the participating parents to do the cooking or cleaning up. Make the breakfast simple (cold cereal, milk, coffee, cake, and juice) so as to cut down on the work. You might by-pass this completely by having the meal ordered and brought in from a caterer. After the breakfast is over, the parents are asked to introduce themselves and to make one or two statements about what types of things their families enjoy doing together. If you organize this by one or two grades at the most and seat the parents and children by grades this will flow smoothly.
After these brief statements and comments by the parents and the children, the class teacher, the church school director, or the parish priest should introduce the parents to the type of work being done in the particular class, the activities used, the content of the curriculum being covered, the types of things the parents might do at home to encourage these ideas being taught. You should also have something printed up for distribution with the outline of what you want to get across at the breakfast. You might also have samples of the materials being used and copies of YOUNG LIFE magazines for distribution (limited back issues and subscription forms are available for free distribution from the Orthodox Christian Education Commission, Box 174, Centuck Station, Yonkers, New York 10710).
In addition to the comments to be made, it would be a good idea to offer parents the opportunity to become directly involved in the session by having them fill out two forms — ‘Parents Resource Sheet” and “Getting Acquainted with your Child” (samples of which can be obtained from the Archdiocese Dept. of Christian Education). By doing this you are telling the parents that you would like them to be involved in those special class or church school projects for which the teachers do not have the necessary expertise. From these forms you can then establish a parent talent file; you can then call on these people when you have need of them.
For the upper grades you might invite a youth counselor and encourage the parents and the teens to talk about themselves and their feelings towards one another and the Church. Pass out samples of UPBEAT Magazine and subscription forms from the same OCEC source.
If the breakfast idea does not suit your situation or is too limited, you might try an early evening coffee and cake meeting for each group separately following the outline used above, but without the presence of the children. This might provide for a freer discussion of ideas and common problems among the parents. You might also invite a child specialist or psychologist to present the parents with a general picture of where the children are at, in terms of emotional and learning development and how these general characteristics might be used to more fully integrate the child into the life of the Church in a more meaningful way. Since this is a more formal approach the person leading the group must be well-prepped to outline both the spiritual needs of the child at a particular age of the class and the content of the materials being used in that class. Both sessions involve work, but the results will be well worth it in terms of the heightened awareness of the parents of what the church school is trying to do and in terms of what you have given them as tools to be more effective Christian parents.