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LA schools use ‘Parent College’ as tool to boost student achievement


Nadia Solis, center, learned about ways to support her children’s education at “Parent College” and is now enthusiastic about helping Darlene, 8, and Alexander, 6, with their homework.

LOS ANGELES — Until last year, Nadia Solis never thought to talk to her elementary school-aged children about college. Now, they not only talk about it, they’ve visited a college campus and are planning for the time when eight-year-old Darlene, and six-year-old Alexander will attend themselves.

“I never thought I should introduce college right about now,” said Solis. “But I should have when they were kids, when they were babies, for them to have an idea of what they are going to expect in life.”

That’s just one of the changes Solis and her family have made in their household since she began attending Parent College, monthly workshops held for families of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Parent College recruits parents largely from three neighborhoods — Watts, Boyle Heights, and South Los Angeles — where many of the schools are now run by the non-profit management company who Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

Partnership LA, as it’s known, works within the LAUSD, but has more autonomy and leverages support from outside funders and partners. It operates 17 schools, many of which were among the lowest performing in the district when they were taken over by the organization.

Parental and Community engagement is one of the four primary turnaround strategies to boost test scores and academic achievement in a school population that is 89 percent Latino, where 95-percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch and nearly one in three are English language learners. The organization spends about 10 percent of its organizational budget, or approximately $900,000 annually, on those efforts.

“The reality is that our parents really are our students’ first and most important teachers,” said Joan Sullivan, CEO of Partnership LA. “Unless we invest in embracing and developing a relationship with them we’re not going to find the kind of success we ultimately want.”

Research has long shown that parental involvement can improve student outcomes in school. But a report published in March indicates how much of a difference it can make on academic achievement.

“The bonds children have at school, the school environments, the positive relationships between principals? Those are important. We want to make sure we understand that,” said Toby Parcel, a sociologist at North Carolina State University and co-author of the study. “It turns out though, that the bonds that the parents form with their children around the subject of school work, those bonds are three-to-four times more important, and I think maybe parents don’t always understand that.”

Sullivan believes the organization’s investment in parent and family engagement and other strategies is paying off.

“Over the past five years the partnership is the highest performing system in the state among all the mid-to-large systems,” she said.


Watch an in-depth report on the Parent College program on Thursday’s PBS NewsHour.

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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