Options for Full-Day Services for Children Participating in Head Start . Parent Involvement

03/07/1995

Because Head Start parents in the full-day program generally work or attend school, the parent involvement coordinator has had to, in her words, "innovate or die" in planning appropriate parent involvement activities. Parent meetings are held at night (with free child care) or during lunch time, "brown bag" sessions. Since most parents have little free time to stop at the center, the parent involvement coordinator prepares "home packets" of volunteer work they can perform for Head Start or home activities they can share with their children in their limited free time. For instance, parents write newsletter articles or perform research to find articles on subjects such as child health that may be of interest to the entire Head Start community. "Make and Take" activity packets also are available that help parents work with children at home on skills such as color identification or counting. Each parent is provided with a mailbox, so that they can pick up newsletters and home packets when they pick up their children.

As hard as she tries, however, the parent involvement coordinator is only able to recruit about 10 percent of parents to perform more "traditional" Head Start activities, such as classroom volunteering or daytime parent training sessions. Because of the program's educated population, most of the parents do not need training in areas such as literacy or life skills. However, the coordinator found that at least five parents this year were interested in attending a six-week, self-taught wordprocessing course. Set up like a computer lab, parents could drop by for a few minutes during their class breaks and work on the center computers. The coordinator has established a parent training library of audio and video tapes, as well, which parents can check out for use in their homes or cars.

The coordinator has found that parents do enjoy opportunities to network informally with one another. For instance, a number of parents have formed a single parent support group, which socializes together and shares babysitting chores. The program also maintains a Head Start Policy Council to which only Head Start parents are elected as parent representatives, although a day- care parent fills one community representative slot.14 The Policy Council considers issues related to all aspects of WKUCCC's child care program, but only approves issues specific to Head Start operations. For instance, the Policy Council is involved with staff hiring and firing decisions for all staff in the program who receive any portion of their salary from Head Start.

To include more non-Head Start parents, the program runs a Parent Action Committee open to all parents of enrolled children. This group meets monthly to consider issues related to the entire WKUCCC program. One of the group's activities is the preparation of a program-wide newsletter; another is raising donations for the entire program.

The parent involvement coordinator feels that her Head Start and non-Head Start parents interact very comfortably with one another at WKUCCC. She noted that because of the program's university setting, most parents (whether Head Start or non-Head Start) share cultural and socioeconomic similarities. However, she has noticed that the two sets of parents are less likely to mingle in informal support groups that meet in parents' homes.

The secret to a successful parent involvement component in a full-day program, says the parent involvement coordinator, is to let parents "own the problem" and come up with their own innovative methods for involvement in that problem. For instance, parents themselves initiated the idea of home packets and a single parent support group at WKUCCC.