Yesterday was the first day of school for many of the city’s 1.1 million students. Many parents woke their child up, got them washed, dressed, fed and out the door, dropped them at the doorstep of their school and waved goodbye as they walked down the hallway to their classroom.
But that doorstep is not where a parent’s involvement in his or her child’s education should end. As an educator, principal—and father—with over 30 years of experience with students, I cannot overemphasize the importance of recognizing that the responsibility of a parent goes so much farther than the doorstep to that school building.
As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. A good teacher sets high expectations for their students, and doesn’t let them quit. You must be the champion for your child and the facilitator of his or her success.
Let’s start with the basics. Set your child up for success every day, even outside of their studies. When they leave for school each morning, it is your responsibility to make sure they have all the supplies they need, that their homework is complete and that they have a good breakfast – at home or at school – to jumpstart their brains and prime them for learning. Try to find some time every day to talk to your children about what’s going on in their lives at school and at play. It could be the 15 minutes in the morning before you leave for work. It could be a walk to the store together. The important thing is to make sure you know what’s happening with them. At night, set clear expectations for your children to be home at a certain time to ensure they get a good night’s rest. Never let your child go to school unprepared, too tired or too hungry to succeed.
Next, you must remain engaged throughout your child’s education. Make it a priority to meet your child’s teacher. Get their contact information. Give them yours. Make sure your child is represented by you, a grandparent, family member or family friend at every PTA meeting and open school days and nights. Meet the other parents at your child’s school. If there’s something the school needs, call on other parents and teachers to help lobby for it. Meet your child’s friends’ and their parents. Know who your children know and encourage them to find focused and dedicated classmates who will support their success.
And lastly, be the biggest advocate for your child’s dreams. We need the next generation to dream big, no matter what school they go to or what part of town they’re growing up in. Encourage your child to dare to dream of being the next Barack Obama, the next Sonia Sotomayor, the next Misty Copeland. Before this school year starts, ask them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Make them write it down on a piece of paper and hang it above their bed. Let it be a powerful reminder and daily reinforcement of their dream, and always encourage and support them to put in the hard work required to achieve that goal. You as a parent are responsible for holding your child accountable.
It is easy to place responsibility for our children’s success on educators, and to blame teachers and school administrators if they are not living up to their potential. But a responsible parent makes their child’s educators their allies and sees that working together is the way to help their child succeed. When parents and teachers work together—that’s how children become successful. Your child’s job is to dream and pursue the education that will help them get there. Your job is to do everything you can to make their dreams a reality.
David C. Banks is President and CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation. His Urban Agenda column is sponsored by the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.