Raising Engagement With Monetary Incentives

Type: Article
Topics: Finance & Budgets, School Administrator Magazine

January 01, 2017

Focus: Parent Relations

Working parents often don’t have much time or energy for volunteering at school activities — and low-income parents sometimes face financial barriers that might prevent them from participating. Just keeping parents informed is a hurdle by itself.

In Guilford County, N.C., we use various channels to deliver our messages to stakeholders but wanted help to do this more effectively.

One way we’re reaching out is through a three-year-old program that designates a parent liaison for each middle school and each Title I elementary school. These parent volunteers serve as go-betweens who link their schools and other parents, passing along key information and engaging their peers in innovative ways that we wouldn’t think to try ourselves.

We pay our parent liaisons a small financial incentive for their services. This helps offset the cost of gas, supplies and other out-of-pocket expenses they might incur — while serving as a way to thank them for their time.

A Relay Role

Several years ago, the school district formed a task force to boost parent involvement and ultimately to close opportunity gaps among students. We had surveyed parents to identify their biggest needs. In response, we formed the Guilford Parent Academy in 2011, a multifaceted parent engagement initiative.

Through the academy, we provide free online tutoring to students and parents and access to a large library of e-books to every family in the district. We also offer online videos and face-to-face training both at schools and in the workplace to show parents how they can support their children’s learning.

These programs, though well-received, are successful only to the extent that parents take advantage of them. With a staff of only five employees in a county system serving 72,000 students and their families, the Guilford Parent Academy must find creative ways to engage parents and encourage them to use the available resources.

That’s where our 89 parent liaisons come in. After participating in monthly training sessions, they help us spread the word about our various programs and opportunities, serving as a key extension of our office. For example, we used parent liaisons to create informative bulletin boards that parents would notice upon entering their children’s schools; staff information tables at after-school events; post notices at laundromats, hair salons and other public places; and reach out to parents via social media, in Spanish as well as English, to make sure they were getting the information they needed.

In some cases, parent liaisons go well beyond the call of duty by launching their own school-based initiatives, such as Saturday morning English as a second language classes for parents, complete with child care.

Modest Investment

It’s not uncommon for our parent liaisons to spend 20 hours per month or more in this volunteer role. To thank them for their service, we allow them to earn a small cash incentive of up to $150 per month in exchange for their time and the completion of certain tasks. This helps reduce the barriers to participating, and we’re reaping huge benefits from this relatively small investment.

An independent evaluation by Leadership Solutions Group of the Guilford Parent Academy in July 2015 concluded the district had strengthened parent engagement significantly — and our parent liaisons are a key reason why.

Research shows a direct relationship between parent engagement and student achievement, and we’re seeing the results of that in our schools. Our student achievement and graduation rates are on the rise, and parental involvement is a significant factor.