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Parents Helping on Campus

April, 2009
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Seraphina Burke is a new student at the Shanghai Singapore International School (SSIS). Having been there for just over six months, she is already used to her new life and having fun with friends on campus.

Her mother is an English teacher at SSIS, and so she is able to see her almost every day around the clock.

“Sometimes I don’t [want to see her on campus] when I am playing with friends,” said the girl. “But still, I love having my mum here on campus…”

Margaret Burke, Seraphina’s mother, is pleased to hear that. Away from their home in Australia for more than six months, she is happy to see her children like the school and their new life in Shanghai..IMG 119

“With former jobs that I have done, always as a working mother I was away a lot from the kids,” said Margaret. “So I enjoy having more contact with the kids now.”

In fact, Margaret teaches children of grade six, the same year that her son is in.

Abby Homiller is a stay-at-home mum. Her kids are in the first and third grades at Shanghai Community International School (SCIS). She believes now is the best time for her to be involved in school as a parent.

“As they get a little bit older, they don’t need it, the teachers don’t need it, and the kids don’t need it. So now it is a good time for me to be involved in school,” said Abby, who became the SCIS PAFA (Parents and Friends Association) president last spring.

Abby has been serving at the PAFA for three and half years, initially being elected as co-president. Two years ago she served as the secretary, and last year she was a classroom parent. She liked the job a lot.

“When I come for a meeting or I am in the classroom they both so excited to see me, and they run and give me a great big hug, so I know they love to see me here….” Abby hopes her involvement as well as other parents’ involvement will support the children at school both socially and academically.

“The children are here eight hours a day and are away from home, so it should be a place they want to be at, she said. “I do believe that our involvement shows our children that we value their education, and the children know their parents value it, and teachers value it, and they really take it seriously.”

According to Abby, SCIS PAFA has two branches; one for the elementary school and one for the upper school. Running from these two branches are different committees and classroom parents or grade level representatives.

There is an executive board which is made up of one president, two vice presidents, a treasurer, and a secretary. There are 11 committees that have a committee head. There are probably about 30 ambassadors. Then, each elementary school classroom has a classroom parent.

“The structure of the PAFA is such that hopefully everybody has an opportunity to volunteer whether it’s just to serve a shift at the craft fair, or head the committee for the welcome coffees,” said the president.

Truly, many hands do make light work.

Throughout the year, PAFA runs a lot of events for parents and kids. Usually at the beginning of the year they do welcome coffee, a series of lectures and presentations to parents who are new to the school and new to Shanghai. Later in the fall, they have an international food fair. The food fair and the Craft Fair held recently were cultural and country-based, coordinated by parent “ambassadors” from each country that the school body represents. So the team from United States will do hot dogs and hamburgers, or the Indian team will bring some Indian food.

“These events really bring the parents together and the community together,” said Abby.

A new event introduced by PAFA this year was the Bingo Night. It was held in the school gym, and the entire school was invited.

“We had about 400 people playing bingo, which was phenomenal. Game night is very popular in the US for families but for some cultures it would be new, so I think it was a great sharing of ideas.”

Coming up, there will be the end of year carnival. All the classrooms are getting together with each grade levelIMG 520 having two booths and being responsible for two game activities. This will be the first time that PAFA has done such an event.

For Abby one of the great ideas that came out this year was to start a family lecture series. They recently invited speakers to talk about homework and how to help children complete their homework so that they learn from it and it is manageable.

“I am always trying to encourage new ideas because I think it is valuable,” said Abby.

As the president Abby said PAFA is experiencing some growth issues right now as SCIS has transformed from a smaller school to a big school with an upper school, middle, and elementary school. She is working on how to restructure this parent organization.

IMG 514 “It’s challenging because there is always something to do. And, at the end of the day you have to go home and there are a lot of other things to manage. But it’s worth it.”

Similarly, it took Friends of Dulwich Shanghai (FoD) - the parent body of Dulwich College Shanghai - five years “to get their feet on the ground,” as Tracey Butters, Junior School Representative at FoD put it. Tracey has been in the FoD for five years, and this is just like a full-time job for her.

According to Tracy, Friends of Dulwich is a tradition that goes back to Dulwich College in London. Now, the rules of the organization have been adjusted a little bit as it serves a very different community in Shanghai.

All parents at Dulwich College Shanghai are members of the FoD, and as the name implies it enables people to build relationships and get involved in the school community. FoD provides an additional channel of communication between parents and the college, assists the school by providing voluntary help and advice, and helps to raise funds for school charities.

Friends of Dulwich is managed by an elected committee of six people who work with the school administration to guide the activities of the organization. Under the main committee there are different clubs and smaller committees such as the Welcome Committee and the Standing Committee who organise specific events and provide opportunities for smaller groups in the college community to pursue shared interests and hobbies.

“Every parent has an influence, and ideas are open to everyone regarding running and participating in an event,” said Tracey. There are many areas within the FoD structure where parents can be involved. For example, being a Class Parent Representative (CPR). The CPRs help facilitate communication between the FoD or the College and the parent body, or sometimes on behalf of the teacher when assistance is required by the teacher.

FoD runs several major events throughout the year, such as the Spring Fair, Farmer’s Markets, Winter Fair and FoD Gala. Charity fundraising is also a big part of FoD’s duty, as Dulwich College Shanghai is attached to six charity organizations, so there are plenty of events for charity purposes.

It is part of North American culture that Shanghai American School welcomed and encouraged parents’ involvement in school since the early days when the school was founded. Today, every SAS parent is a member of the Parent, Teacher and Student Association (PTSA).

The PTSA is a volunteer organization that supports and enhances the school community through social, educational and fund-raising activities. PTSA runs and operates a Publishing Center for student writing, an Art Ambassador program that emphasizes art appreciation, and First Friends/Morning Coffee committees that help newcomers feel welcome at SAS. Each year the PTSA sponsors a wide variety of events including the huge International Fair as well as the SAS Booster Club and monthly Treat Days with baked goods for the kids. - “We are the link between the school administration, teachers and the parents,” said Katie Ferguson, the PTSA president at SAS Pudong campus.

According to her, the PTSA does a lot of fund-raising activities across the two SAS campuses, and the money raised is spent in many different ways. For example, helping to host student parties, fund field trips, etc. They. also raise money for other charities, especially for migrant schools.

Katie said it is important to remind the children that “when you are guest in a country, particularly when you are a privileged guest in a country, it’s important to do something that gives back to that country.”IMG 460

According to Karen Chow, PTSA President at SAS Puxi, the PTSA also wants to make sure that some of those wonderful activities and fundamental North American traditions that might occur at a typical American school, such as basketball, soccer or Halloween parades will be happening here.

Katie adds that the SAS PTSA also showcases SAS as “a diverse community.” On the SAS Pudong campus, we have Chinese celebrations, UN Day celebrations, and SAS Pudong elementary school also has a Korean celebration day.

“It’s a joy, because a US elementary school won’t have that,” Katie said. “And it brings us a piece of their culture. We are just continuing to enrich and expand culture to all students.”

Both Karen and Katie believe what SAS PTSA does is “to build the community, and bring the community together.”

For Tess Robinson, president of the Parent Organization at Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, getting involved in school brings the family even closer.

Tess was part of the group of 5 parents who started the POP at Yew Chung. As the president, she frequents the school for meetings or to help work in the library, decorates the school and helps run parent activities. Meanwhile, as a school parent, Tess comes to school everyday to drop off and pick up her child.

“I always get a huge smile and lots of hugs from not only my child, but also many of his friends,” said Tess on the fact that she s is so welcomed by her own kids and their friends at school.


“The kids love to see parents, it makes them feel important. They also love to share what they are doing with you, even if it’s just that they learned a new word or song. They’ll belt it out in the hallways.”

Tess believes that the closer parents are to the school the better they understand how to work with teachers and administrators, so that they can help their own child perform and behave to their very best ability.

Sandy West and Helene Mobian Ballon are two moms at the Western International School of Shanghai (WISS).

One thing they both like is the community feel and open atmosphere of the school. So they come to school very often, sometimes everyday. Sandy said she would show up at school a couple of times a week, sometimes just grabbing a nice lunch for my children and their teachers. Helene usually helps out at the school library or events or comes to do some reading to the kids in the classroom.

“There are a lot of parents involved everyday in the classrooms,” said Sandy. “Especially when it is the International Day, the Chinese New Year celebration or Book Week, more parents will show up.” From the school side, there are many learning opportunities for parents, like the information sessions on IB education.

IMG 105 “For many of us this is the first time to be introduced to an inquiry-based curriculum, and so it is very helpful that we get information about how the children are learning in the classroom,” she said.

The school director, Dr. Alfonso Orsini believes the school door is always open to every parent, and it is good for children to see the continuity between home and school.

“When they see their moms or dads at school, they may feel school as part of their family and their family is part of the school,” said Dr. Alfonso. “We have some parents who are really thoughtful about education, and some parents and teachers look like colleagues. For a new school like WISS, information and feedback from parents are really important for the school’s development.”

Judy Townsend, Head of School at Montessori School of Shanghai (MSS) insists parents should get involved in school as early as possible because “early childhood is the time in life when children really benefit from quality education.”

Although there is no such parent organization at MSS as the teacher-student ratio is so high that MSS has 4 adults for 12 children from the ages of 1.5 years old to 3 years old. This means that there is “usually no need for extra hands.”

But Judy believes there are always contributions parents can make. For example, she said, parents can come in and share the joy of having a child when the school holds a birthday celebration. Sometimes parents participate in other ways, either teaching a song from their native country or some other unique educational activity.IMG 458

More importantly, MSS does parent workshops during the school year, such as workshops on toddlers and workshops on how to have a happy family. Parents will come to these, and proper dialogues can be conducted.

“What we are trying to do is to model and demonstrate good parenting skills,” said Judy. “When the parents see how our teachers are working with their children they begin to know that they can behave that way themselves. Ultimately, that will help the children.”

In fact, research shows students with involved parents are more likely to do better at school.

Abby’s advice for other parents: “I think for people who aren’t involved, the most important thing is to get out there at least for a little bit of time. Don’t over-commit yourself because you want to enjoy your experience and sometimes it can be overwhelming. There are a lot of things you can get involved with, for example, reading in the classroom once a week, or working a shift at one of the events. Eventually as you get more and more involved, you feel more comfortable. You don’t have to have a title. Whatever you do, it adds so much to everybody’s experience. And it makes the school feel more family focused and community-focused when everybody is involved at some level.”

by Xing Yangjian

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  1. May 23rd, 2009 at 01:42 | #1

    “YOU ARE the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. - KAHLIL GIBRAN

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