Saturday, September 12, 2015

Family Engagement: How does your PTA respect family traditions?

You may have seen the story in this morning's Washington Post about the debate the Montgomery County School Board is having about canceling school for major Muslim religious holidays where students and teachers will miss school.

Now granted, it is difficult to cancel school for everything, and we haven't had a policy discussion about canceling schools here in Arlington for Jewish and Muslim holidays as they have in Montgomery County. But as PTAs, we can send a huge message about how we value families and their traditions - as well as how we welcome families to a school - by avoiding scheduling our PTA meetings on days that are traditional observances for families, like Rosh HaShana or Eid El Adha. 

Kudos to our high school PTA Presidents and Principals. Recently, we had a terrific example of the way our three high school PTAs were responsive to families by moving the events they had scheduled on major religious holidays. The Wakefield and Washington-Lee PTAs rescheduled their first PTA meetings, and Yorktown rescheduled an activities fair, after receiving requests from families to reschedule them from Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur and Eid El Adha. The PTA presidents and Principals at each school graciously complied, and immediately rescheduled the meetings, sending out a message to the school communities this past week.

Such a simple act was seen as responsive and welcoming by the parents impacted by the conflict. And it fits in nicely with our efforts to further engage families here in Arlington, taken up by the School Board as a priority this past year.

How does a PTA President avoid the scheduling conflicts in the first place? The best thing to do is ask the families in your school: Which major holidays require students to miss school each year? What would be good dates to avoid? For Jewish families, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur are the major ones, and often fall in the first weeks of the new school year. For Muslim families, Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr are the two most important holidays and schools should avoid scheduling major events on those dates. Don't assume that the school administration and teachers know this - they may not. PTAs advocate for all students, so be sure to share the information you receive from families with your schools. Recommend that they avoid scheduling field trips, assemblies and tests on these days.

What steps can your PTA take to ensure you are responsive and welcoming to all families?

You can also refer to multi-faith religious calendars, like the one put out by the Jewish Council, that includes a variety of religious and cultural holidays. Form Family Engagement committees as part of your PTA, and make sure you make extra efforts to communicate to families you don't normally see at PTA meetings.

The CCPTA is committed to your success as a PTA, and the success of all our students; we have decided that each May, we will circulate a list of the major religious and cultural holidays to PTAs to use while planning the following year's activities.  On this site, we have a resources page that lists family engagement resources - please refer to them. If you need a place to start, contact the new APS Family Engagement Coordinator, Rosa Briceno, or contact one of the CCPTA officers. We are here to help.

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