Before the doors open: Involving families in their children’s education

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This is the fourth entry in a weekly series that takes a peek into preparations for opening the newest Baltimore County school – Lyons Mill Elementary.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but if you asked Maralee Clark, principal of the new Lyons Mill Elementary, she’d tell you that it takes the involvement of families to open a school.

“Building relationships with our families right from the start has been a major focus,” says Clark. “[It began] with our school boundary process and [will continue] throughout the year.”

As part of that continuation, Lyons Mill held its second Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) planning meeting this past Tuesday in the library of the neighboring New Town Elementary. Around 80 Lyons Mill teachers, parents, grandparents, and students turned out for the event, during which the attendees approved bylaws, collected membership dues, and elected officers for the school’s PTA executive board.

On the ballot were Alysia M. Falby for president, Chanda Santiago-Williams for vice president, Aliqiyamah Jibril for treasurer, and Shamel R. Gravely for secretary. Once votes were cast and tallied, the four candidates stepped to the front of the room and into their new positions.

“Our PTA has the important task of establishing Lyons Mill school traditions with input from parents, students, and community members,” says Clark about what’s in store for the members of the executive board.

Luckily, though, they’ll have some help: a steering committee comprised of an additional 13 Lyons Mill parents will support initiatives for community service/outreach, fundraising, and more.

“I plan to coordinate resources that will allow the PTA to sponsor social and cultural events for our student body,” says Camille Smith, member of the LMES PTA and community service/outreach committee chair. “I also think it’s important for our students to understand how they can positively impact their communities through outreach so I look forward to working with the LMES student government.”

Melissa Harris, chair of fundraising, also has big hopes for her work with the new elementary school.

“My goal is to implement a fundraising plan that includes a mix of fundraising events and opportunities to benefit the school,” she says. “One PTA fundraising goal that we have is to be able to purchase T-shirts for the students who participate in LMES’ 20 clubs.”

As big as their plans for Lyons Mill are, though, the members of the steering committee have even bigger ideas about parents and why their involvement in their children’s education is so important.

Take Alethea Watkins, for an example. The mother of an incoming Grade 1 student, Watkins feels that “Parents should be the first teachers in their child’s lives,” and that’s why she intends to take an active role at the new school.

“Teachers and other various support staff play an important role within the school, but I believe parents must do their parts as well to help make a difference in our children’s lives,” she says. “What better way to model this other than being a parent volunteer and/or an active PTA member? Being an active member helps make a difference in the school culture and shows our children that we really do care about their futures.”

Jae Joyner, another member of the steering committee, agrees, explaining that she joined PTA to support her son, who will enter kindergarten this school year.

“My son is very young,” she says. “I became involved so that I could be as closely connected to and in tune with the school as possible [because] I hope to learn more about the school’s goals and philosophies so that I know what I need to supplement at home.”

The PTA, however, isn’t the only way that families can play a part in the children’s education; according to Melissa Daniels, S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) teacher and technology liaison at Lyons Mill, parents can also use technology.

“We are very enthusiastic about having parents as partners in our school, and one way we will be able to partner with parents outside of the school is through BCPS One,” she says. “Parents will be able to learn what is happening at school, communicate with teachers, and check student grades through BCPS One in addition to having resources available from BCPS.”

As a mother who understands the challenges for many parents of balancing the workday with family time, Daniels sees BCPS One as “a tremendous step in connecting home and school in order to help students be successful,” but adds that so, too, is social media.

“Social media has been an important part of involving the parents,” she says. “The parents have been involved all along the way, even the very night that the name of the school was chosen.”

And Daniels is right – parents really have been “involved all along the way.” From offering their input on Lyons Mill’s before- and after-school care selection process to helping to draft the school’s vision statement and develop its parent handbook, families have contributed so much to the elementary school, even before its doors have opened.

And, for all of the dedication and commitment that Lyons Mill has received while preparing for its first school year, Clark couldn’t be more appreciative.

“The support from our families has been truly amazing,” she says. “I am very grateful that so many families have come out to meet our teachers at events this past spring and summer so we can hit the ground running when school starts on August 24.”

Certainly, the 2015-2016 school year is bound to be a great one for Lyons Mill, bringing, as Joyner’s kindergarten student puts it, “a brand new adventure,” and of course, “a new book bag,” too.

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