The Head Start program at McKinley School on Diamond and Orkney Streets in North Philadelphia works hard to create a welcoming environment for parents, and the response has been a high level of parent involvement and enthusiasm and a program that is highly regarded across the city.
“We always try to come up with ways for parents to stay involved,” said head teacher Denise Ellis, adding that the center’s goal in establishing a rapport with parents is to “help parents develop a comfort level. We want parents to see themselves as team members working with teachers.”
Parents at McKinley stressed the effort that staff puts into communicating with them – through letters sent home, a weekly newsletter, a parent bulletin board, and frequent face-to-face conversations. Parents have the teachers’ school and home phone numbers.
Ellis said there is “an amazing response” from parents willing to help out with trips and projects. Parents who can’t come into school may donate recyclables or send in ingredients for cooking projects.
Ellis noted that for some of the parents she works with, school was not always a great experience, and so building positive connections to the school is important. She particularly tries to make connections with parents around reading activities.
In the morning, parents are encouraged to linger in the classroom when they drop off their children. Some parents use the time to read with their children. Teachers and parents also use the time to chat about the children.
On a recent February morning, classroom assistant Aimee Torres, the mother of a former Head Start student at McKinley, greeted parents and students in Spanish and English as they arrived, and parents conversed comfortably with her in Spanish in the classroom. Asked about the success of the program, Torres said, “I think it’s how involved the parents are.”