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Welcome back to the ring! This time we go toe-to-toe on parental responsibility. Before we start throwing blows, there will be a brief word from our sponsor – me. This area is one upon which most schools – if not all – could improve. Elementary schools typically have an outpouring of parental support and responsibility, but once our kids become middle schoolers, society thinks, “Well, they’re grown – they don’t need support from parents on schoolwork now.” In reality, they need that support now more than ever. Middle school is a hard time to be a kid, let alone a student. Their bodies are changing, their thinking is changing, and they find themselves constantly locked in internal conflict of “Can I” and “Do I want to.” This is when parents and families need to constantly encourage students and help them develop healthy study habits. This time is vital, and the habits developed during this time will stay with your child throughout their college and work life.  If you want them to be as successful as possible, use this time while they are still young enough to listen to show them how to be successful students.

Thank you for indulging that break from our sponsor, “I’m a mom first” Mrs. Greene. Now back to the main event.

In brick-and-mortar middle school, parental responsibility was nonexistent. There was the occasional form they had to sign or parent-teacher conference they had to attend, but for the most part, if you did not directly reach out to them, parents did not feel that their presence was required. Now, that is not to say that there were not involved parents. I had probably five or 10 each year that were a vital part of their child’s education. I always told them how grateful I was that their child’s education was such a priority. They would check in with major assignments, always come to conferences, and volunteer whenever they could. They were rare, not because the other parents did not care, but because brick-and-mortar was not a parent-friendly zone. If your parent was there, you were probably in trouble – at least that is how the students appeared to feel.  No matter how often I tried to pull parents in to be a part of their child’s education, there was always a hesitation. Parents often felt like they were getting in the way when they tried to be active in their child’s education.

With ARVA, I have found something else entirely. Upon entering ARVA, students and families are given a very important course to ensure that the school will be the right fit for the learner and the family. This course explains the needs and requirements for both student and family. This introduction explains a very important concept with which many families are not familiar anymore: Family support is as vital to your child’s education as the teacher, curriculum, and school all put together. The family signs an agreement stating that they understand that ARVA requires that learners and families invest in this education. It takes time, effort, and active engagement to be successful. This may sound strange, but it is done because virtual education is not for everyone, and sometimes people jump in hoping it will alleviate the academic pressure from their learner. That is not what virtual school is about; we want your learner to choose their education and make it a priority.

This requires much investment from families. Parents have to monitor and maintain records for their learners. They must input attendance and monitor their learner’s progress. Truth be told, parents know their learners better than anyone – they know what they are capable of and what is beyond them currently. If there is a learner who is having difficulty with the curriculum, parents are the first to know, and they now have the ability to address concerns directly with the teacher – not by calling in to an office to set up a meeting or phone conference; no, they just call me and we talk and plan how we can help their learner be more successful. If parents know something is going on at home that will affect their learner, now I don’t have to guess because there is that safety blanket of distance, and more often than not they tell me.

Students at ARVA can be completely independent of their families, like in any school; however, the truly successful ones are the ones that have that support right there starting in the home. So on parent responsibility, the bar is set higher from the start. We let parents know immediately that we want to hear from them. We want them to be an integral part of their learner’s education. The response is amazing – when they realize that they will not be treated as a pest or called a “helicopter parent” for hovering, they put in the effort and are a strong team member. Every year I meet parents that tell me they don’t mean to bother me when they call or text. So, I tell my families every year multiple times a year, bother me, pester me, text me, call me because I want them to know there is a never a question I am not willing to answer and there is no problem I am not willing to help them through. If we are not working together, we might as well be working against each other.

One might say that virtual school has a mean right hook when it comes to not only parental responsibilities, but parental engagement. Hang in there brick-and-mortar me, maybe next time you can shine when we address working with colleagues – because, hey, virtual schools don’t collaborate with colleagues, right? You’ll just have to stick around and find out.

About The Author

Katharine Greene

Katharine Greene teaches grades 4-8 at Arkansas Virtual Academy (ARVA). She joined ARVA for the 2015-16 school year. Katharine taught previously at Northwood Middle School in North Little Rock, Arkansas, until its closure in 2015. Katharine graduate from Arkansas State University with a bachelor's degree in education and became certified to teach math, science, English, and history. Katharine lives with her husband and two children in the quaint town of Pangburn, Arkansas. Next to her passion for education, Katharine also shares a love of cooking with her husband and hopes to one day open a family-owned and operated restaurant. Katharine also enjoys singing, reading, writing, and creating new and adventurous memories with her family. 

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