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'Global Parent Camp' Taking Shape This Summer

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Planning is underway this summer for a "Global Parent Camp," to be held Nov. 2, in which school communities will meet locally for moderated discussions on how to work together to improve education, and simultaneously share what they learn globally using technology.

The goal of a parent camp is to have all participants—parents, teachers, administrators, and community members—express their observations and ideas on a level playing field. Everyone in the room has an equal voice, and connections are created among participants that will go beyond the event.

The parent camp is structured so that schools in different regions offer their communities the opportunity to hold discussions on a variety of prearranged topics, with openings for participants to lead spontaneous discussions on subjects that arise that day. Some sessions will be connected from school-to-school via Skype. Attendees will also tweet their ideas and discoveries via @ParentCamp throughout the event to provide more learning opportunities, according to Gwen Pescatore, president of the Knapp Elementary Home and School Association, who is leading the planning efforts with Knapp Principal Joe Mazza.

Knapp Elementary, a Lansdale, Pa., school, conducted its first parent camp on April 27—inviting parents, teachers, and others from the 13,000-student North Penn School District, and beyond, to attend. About 150 people participated; the Knapp organizers shared the experience from that day on its wiki with resources, notes, videos and audio clips from the 27 sessions.

"We had some parents leading discussions," Pescatore explained. One group of parents shared their knowledge of useful iPad applications in a session. A mother who works in human resources led a discussion of self-esteem for children. In the Knapp Home and School Association discussion, the topic was how to get parents involved in the organization, which is the elementary school's formal parent-teacher group.

Each session is limited to one hour. At the end of all the discussions, participants reconvene to talk about their "takeaways" with the assembled group, giving their impressions of the event.

Mazza introduced the idea for hosting a parent camp to his school based on his attendance with representatives from his school at EdCamp Philly, a gathering on K-12 education issues and ideas, and on his own participation in EdCamp Leadership, a so-called "unconference," which is a participant-driven gathering that allows attendees to sign up as discussion leaders on topics of interest the day of the event.

"Many of the values discussed in the book, 'Beyond the Bake Sale' by Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp about family engagement, sparked our initial parent camp conversations," explains Pescatore.

This summer, a Beyond the Bake Sale book chat is being hosted on Google Hangout, an online way to hold a group conversation. "Not only does this book help lay the groundwork for positive parent camp discussions, but it also gets the dialogue started before the big day about the importance of families and schools working together as equal partners," Pescatore says.

"Schools from Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Indiana, and Canada are interested in joining us for the global parent camp," says Pescatore. "Taking into consideration some of the feedback we received after the one we held earlier, we moved the next one to fall—leaving us no option but to plan over the summer."

Pescatore says she is pleased to be advancing this effort while her three children are home for the summer. "I love the idea of everybody working together. I've learned so much about how to support my children, but also different viewpoints from teachers, superintendents—everyone working together—and not judging each other based on what their role is."

Mazza describes how to host a parent camp in an Edutopia article. Families or schools interested in participating in this free event can sign in using this form.

See our full coverage of parent empowerment issues.

This is my last entry in the K-12 Parents & the Public blog. Please join me in welcoming Karla Reid, our new blogger in this space. And please stop by the Marketplace K-12 blog, where I'll be joining Sean Cavanagh.

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