Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections. D. School Involvement and Civic Engagement

08/01/2004

Families connect to their communities in many ways. Parental involvement in their children school is one of the key ways in which parents interact with a community-based institution, as well as their children peers and their parents. Parental involvement can be measured as participation in general school meetings, attending conferences with teachers, attending school events, and volunteering or fundraising for the school. Studies find that students of parents who are involved in their school are more likely to have positive educational outcomes, including higher grades, and avoid grade repetition, suspension, expulsion, and dropping out (Nord & West, 2001). Most parents attend some meetings or events at their children school, and rates of involvement are highest in primary school but decline at higher grade levels. Only a minority of parents, however, takes time to volunteer in their children’s school (U.S. Department of Education, 2001).

Civic engagement can take many forms and can have a positive influence on children development as well as on the community (Zaff & Michelsen, 2002). One way that families connect to their communities is to work together with others in their community to solve problems where they live. Interestingly, some research suggests that high levels of family-community involvement exist in many of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods (Rankin & Quane, 2000), suggesting that these families have taken it upon themselves to rectify the disorder and deterioration in their neighborhoods, and are making concerted efforts to seek out safe and supervised activities for their children. Another form is to raise funds for charity, or to do volunteer work for organizations on a regular basis, or to be an active member of an organization that works on community service projects (Keeter et al, 2002). A less active form of engagement is simply to make donations to charitable or educational organizations.

Participation in electoral politics is key to our democratic process, and, for families, elections can influence the development of child and family policies and programs. Measures of engagement in the electoral process include voting in elections, volunteering for a candidate or a political organization, persuading others on electoral issues, displaying support through signs, buttons, etc., or contributing money to a party on political candidate (Keeter et al, 2002). The percentage of eligible parents who are registered to vote is a measure of intent to participate in elections.

In addition to the above more formal expressions of civic and political engagement, families can express their political voice in informal ways such as writing letters or contacting officials or the media, signing petitions, protesting or canvassing neighborhoods, or boycotting products because of conditions under which the product is made or by which the company operates (Keeter et al, 2002).

As with many other family characteristics, parents provide a role model of civic involvement and compassion for others when they volunteer (Vandivere et al., 2000). Parental civic engagement is positively associated with the civic engagement of their high school-aged children (U.S. Department of Education, 1996). In general, research that thoroughly controls for the range of confounding influences is lacking, and it appears that self-selection may account for a portion on the associations that have been found. Nevertheless, multivariate and a few experimental studies support the notion that parental involvement in school (Redd, Brooks, & McGarvey, 2002) and civic engagement (Zaff & Michelsen, 2002) are positive influences on children development.

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