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West Valley City Journal

Parental involvement No. 1 factor in children’s education, presenters say

Feb 27, 2017 10:45AM ● By Bryan Scott

Tami Pyfer shares tips and anecdotes with parents at the Parent Leadership & Empowerment Conference. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Tami Pyfer, education adviser to Gov. Gary Herbert, was the keynote speaker for parents attending Granite School District’s Parent Leadership & Empowerment Conference on Jan. 21. She spoke on ways parents can be involved in their children’s education.
“Being involved is not just important; it’s imperative,” she said.
Kris Dennison and Kimberly Swensen of Utah’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) leadership also addressed this topic in their breakout sessions. They explained that parent involvement is the No. 1 factor in student achievement—even more than school choice or socio-economic status.
Parents can get involved early in their child’s learning by reading with them, said Swensen. As they get older, parents can organize a workspace for homework, away from distractions and equipped with needed supplies. Dennison suggested keeping a clipboard and pencil box in the car for times when homework is done during a commute.
Dennison encouraged parents to talk with kids about school and listen without judgment when they express frustration.
“You don’t have to protect kids from failure or make their decisions for them,” Swensen said. “Just be there for them.”
Parents need to be positive about school, making it obvious they value education, said Pyfer. They can demonstrate high aspirations and expectations for their children by using encouraging phrases such as, “You can do this” when kids are struggling and encourage setting educational goals by asking questions such as, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”  
Presenters suggested celebrating academic achievements to encourage students to continue their progress.
“Kids love to be praised,” said Dennison.
Parents can be involved with what their child is learning by looking over their homework, said Dennison. They may find opportunities to supplement learning with outings and vacations related to subjects their child is studying.
Families can also share their own examples of academic success. Pyfer suggested parents talk about their jobs and educational experiences. She believes it’s important to link book-learning to real life. Parents can talk with their children about how they solve problems at work. They can share how they learned self-discipline and persistence from taking music lessons. They can tell how they learned to consider another’s perspective because of an instructor they didn’t agree with.
Denison agrees that parents should talk to their child about everyday happenings; discussing current events or participating in community events are part of a child’s education. Her opinion is that families will find time to have these discussions if they make dinnertime a family activity and limit screen time. She also said driving in the car is a great time for parents to have one-on-one discussions with their child to get an idea of how things are going.
Presenters emphasized the importance of having a good relationship with teachers and schools by communicating often with teachers and knowing the secretaries in the front office.
“Teachers can be your strongest ally,” Pyfer said. She suggested sending thank-you notes or gifts to teachers to let them know they are appreciated.
When a child complains about a teacher, Pyfer reminded parents to consider that they are only hearing one side of the story. She warned parents not to talk negatively about teachers.
“It affects the child’s ability to learn from that teacher,” she said.
Dennison told parents that the decision to come to the parenting conference shows they are willing to be more involved. She assured the fathers, who were in the minority of those in attendance, that they could fill a unique niche in the schools.
Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) has been implemented in 15 district elementary schools. The program encourages dads to be involved in their child’s school. Positive male adult role models have been highly successful, said Swensen.
“Kids are just drawn to dads,” she said. “Male engagement is crucial.” She cited that fewer instances of bullying occur when dads had a presence at the schools. More info is available at
As PTA representatives, Dennison and Swensen encouraged parents to join their local PTA organizations. Besides being informed of what is going on in their schools, members receive benefits. For example, information about discounts for local arts and sporting events can be found at
The PTA website at, has more ideas of how parents can be involved with their child’s education. There are also resources at, including information to track and support a child’s academic and personal growth. Here, parents learn what is normal social and emotional behavior for each stage of a child’s development.
Presenters assured parents that it is never too late to get involved.
“Don’t ever underestimate the influence you have on your child’s success,” said Pyfer.