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'School Smarts' Program Wins Diversity, Inclusion Award

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School Smarts, a California PTA program that encourages and teaches parent engagement in public schools, recently won the inaugural Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award, recognition given by the National PTA.

The National PTA award honors a single PTA from throughout the nation for "doing remarkable work in the areas of diversity and inclusion."

The School Smarts Parent Academy, a seven-session course in how to navigate the educational system, communicate effectively, and advocate for quality education, has been presented in English, Spanish, and Cantonese to more than 700 parents over the past two school years. Several thousand have participated in campuswide parent-engagement events.

In the first year, when 345 parents graduated from 18 parent academies, the demographics were:


  • Almost one-third (30 percent) did not complete high school.

  • 61 percent were Latino; 18 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander.

  • More than half (53 percent) were Spanish speakers.

In the first pilot year, 2010-11, School Smarts was implemented in 14 schools in four districts: Alameda Unified, Chino Valley Unified, Riverside Unified, and South San Francisco Unified. In the second year, it was offered in 23 schools in the original four pilot districts.

After the first year, the School Smarts pilot program was evaluated through internal assessments and surveys, as well as a formal evaluation conducted by SRI International. Highlights of the findings:


  • 85 percent of participants said their knowledge of the school system and how they can help their children increased dramatically.

  • 80 percent said they were more likely to take action and get involved with their schools after completing the academy.

  • Respondents said the program fostered a sense of community among parents of diverse backgrounds.

Besides teaching the fundamentals of parent engagement, each School Smarts session involves arts activities for parents to complete, building a sense of community and underscoring the importance of a complete education that includes the arts.

Origins of School Smarts

Extensive research and planning conducted by the California State PTA and supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation found a high level of interest among parents in learning more about their schools and how they can help children. (The Hewlett Foundation supports the coverage of "deeper learning" policies and strategies in Education Week.)

Based on that research, the California State PTA received a multiyear grant from the Hewlett Foundation to develop and offer in 14 pilot schools a School Smarts program, consisting of the parent academy plus an initial parent-engagement night to which all parents in a school are invited.

For more about School Smarts, visit the California PTA site, and more about the award is available here.

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