It seems that schools are always asking parents to “do” something, or “give” something.  Parents are asked to donate school supplies or paper products, attend events and bring family members (because there’s an admission fee for the event, and that generates revenue for the school), or to come to the PTG or HSA meeting to “Get involved!”  Unfortunately, parents know that if they do attend, they may be asked to volunteer for a special event, give money for a special project, or buy something as part of the school’s “Fundraiser of the month.”

The parent’s usual response?  “Hey, I’m paying tuition already!”

If that sound familiar, the interesting point is that “we know this stuff,” but still continue to persist in the same behavioral patterns because “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Indeed, the donating, attending, and getting involved is certainly necessary, but simply asking just isn’t enough.

Think of it this way.  If you were to ask a potential major donor to just give you $10,000, without knowing anything about your school, would they do it?  I’m sure you know the answer.

Yet, parents that may have 2 or 3 children enrolled in your school may be struggling and sacrificing to pay that much in tuition.  They are certainly giving of their treasure, but sometimes, their time and their talent are equally, if not more, valuable to your school.

To attract a major donor, a foundation which can offer a grant, or a business that will partner with your school, you know you first need engage those individuals in the mission and vision of your school.  You may think that your parent community is already engaged because they’ve enrolled their children there, but once a child is enrolled, the engagement process, many times, ends.  Parental engagement was important to enroll the child, but then engagement continues with other parents of prospective students to keep enrollment growing.

The first step to growing enrollment, however, is keeping the enrollment you already have.  Just as donor retention is a key topic among advancement professionals today, student retention is an important topic in higher education.  For faith-based elementary and high schools, student retention is actually parent retention, since they’re the ones paying the way.

Current parents of your school community must continually be engaged with your school by reminding them why they chose your school in the first place – because they realized it’s the premiere educational environment for their child.

Need a couple of ideas as to how to foster community?  Remember the song from days gone by:  “The more we get together, together, together, the more we get together the happier we’ll be.”  Your school needs to be a place where parents “want” to go; not where they “have” to go.  With that in mind, here are some ideas schools are already using.  Remember, your school isn’t just there to teach the children.  A school is an educational environment, and teaching parents is certainly something administration and staff do every day.

  • Offer computer classes to your parent community.  Show them how to use the Internet safely, tools like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and how to use email effectively.  “Inbox Zero” could be something that’s very popular right about now, since with the pandemic, more and more “business” is being done via email, and that means more and more “spam and scam” opportunities may come along.  This may encourage parents that aren’t already doing so to be able to use a computer, and finally eliminate the “What about those that don’t have a computer” issue that so many school leaders worry about.  Again, due to our pandemic, if a parent doesn’t have computer access, chances are their children are the ones who are falling behind in achievement levels.
  • Offer language classes to your parent community.  Many schools are teaching Spanish to children throughout their elementary school experience.  It would be great if parents were also given the ability to reinforce their child’s learning at home.
  • Offer awareness classes to your parent community.  There’s a furor right now over the way that math is now being taught.  Explain to parents why this is important, and how it helps to develop thinking pathways that are important for children if they want to learn how to code.  They might build an app that could earn them enough money to go to college.
  • Create a parent reading section in your library.  Stock it with books like “7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.”
  • Before all your parent teacher meetings, have a spaghetti dinner for families.  Offer child care.  There’s a school in the Pittsburgh area who has a spaghetti dinner (no charge; donations accepted) before every monthly parent teacher meeting.  Dinner is at 6, meeting is at 7.  How many parents come to dinner and stay for the meeting?  Most of them…which is a lot more that what most schools see at their meetings.

Why isn’t your school a family?  Because family “is.”  Even though families may have arguments, differences and estrangements, there’s still something that pulls a family together.  A community is different.  If someone doesn’t like the community they’re in, or feel they’ve become estranged from it, they’ll leave to find a new community.  And if your school has been experiencing a drop in enrollment, you may think it’s because of economic hardships.  Chances are that’s the proffered reason – but not the real one.