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Researchers Urge Parents to Guide Middle School Students

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Parents of middle school students can feel caught, much as their children do, between two worlds.

One realm is the hands-on parenting needed for the early years; at the other end of the continuum is the increasingly hands-off approach for the teen years. The middle is less well defined.

How can parents—especially those struggling with poverty—best influence their middle schooler's educational trajectory, given the fact that they and their students are in a mid-stage of dependence/independence?

Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, which conducts policy research that benefits children, families, and their communities, recently released a nine-page Chapin Hall Issues Brief on this topic.

Chapin Hall researchers focused their case study on parents and other stakeholders who are part of the Chicago-area Elev8, a program that works with high-poverty areas in four locations around the country. Elev8 seeks to ease the transition to high school for these students.

While the Chapin Hall team lauded efforts to encourage parents to participate in the classroom with their students, the researchers said economic realities will prevent many others from spending much time at their children's schools.

"Based on our findings, along with existing research on parent involvement strategies, we recommend that many schools reconsider their efforts to connect with parents. In particular, research suggests that in comparison to school-based involvement, a better investment of parents' time might be 'academic socialization,' or speaking effectively with their children about the importance of education and helping them think about their futures," the report states.

"Indeed, middle school students, who are both seeking independence and at risk of disengaging from school, might be in particular need of academic socialization. Parents can help their children to think about what education means to them, to set their own goals for schooling, and to decide how best to reach them," it continued.

In addition, the Chapin Hall researchers emphasized "the importance of schools building relationships with parents as the first step to engaging them in other ways. Indeed, it appears that investments of resources in parent classes or support services have limited payoff without a prior relationship-building effort."

The report concludes that: "Elev8 provides a useful case study of the various strategies that schools use to forge deeper connections to parents. Often these efforts flounder, possibly because they fail to address the changing developmental needs of middle school students and overlook the many struggles that a significant number of parents face. We recommend that schools focus on developing a solid connection to parents, meeting them where they are in their lives (both physically and psychologically) and identifying the best ways to help them promote their adolescent's academic socialization."

Download the full report here.

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