For 17 years, Windy Tuck has gone out of her way to get involved in her children's schools.
She has been president of school improvement councils and PTOs. She has volunteered to read to children, publish newsletters, bake for classes and fundraisers, work book fairs, shelve library books, design bulletin boards, teach drama classes, decorate gyms, organize talent shows and more.
"You name it, I've probably done it," said Tuck, who works full-time as school program manager for York County Culture & Heritage Museums. "I even ran for the school board."
Her efforts caught the eye of Parenting magazine, which chose Tuck to represent South Carolina at the publication's second annual Mom Congress on Education and Learning in Washington, D.C., this month.
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Starting April 10, Tuck will spend several days at Georgetown University, meeting with peers from across the country as well as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The event will include workshops and activities.
Duncan is expected to talk with the group about the role parents play in improving education.
Tuck, whose 10-year-old son Cameron attends Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School in Rock Hill, talked with The Herald about how getting involved in school is critical to improving education - and easier than some might think.
Q. Why do you feel it's important to be involved in school?
Is shows your children that education is important and valuable. No matter how old your children are, they recognize what you're doing and they appreciate it - even if they pretend not to know you sometimes. My daughter rolled her eyes when she found out that I was chaperoning her prom. But, the very first thing she did when she walked in was to hand my camera to her date and say, "take a picture of me and my mom."
Q. Debates over poor student achievement often lead to finger-pointing with one side blaming it on teachers and the other blaming it on parents. Given your involvement in schools you have an opportunity to see it from both sides. What are your thoughts?
If you want to ensure that children will be successful in school, you have got to be involved in their education. At the end of the year when awards are given out, the children that you see on the honor rolls are the children of those parents that you see at the PTO meetings and volunteering. It is because they are often the parents that are making sure that homework gets done, that their children are reading every day, and that their children are exposed to educational experiences outside of the classroom. It doesn't matter what school that they're at, they're going to succeed because they have that parent support.
The main thing is not volunteering at school, but placing that value on education and making sure your kids know how important it is. Teachers can't force your child to learn. Parents have got to make their children value an education.
Q. Can you describe how you work with your children at home?
The number one thing I've done to help my own children at home is to read with them. I've also included them in many of my volunteer activities in the schools and community. I extend their school lessons by taking them to museums, historical sites and theater performances.
Q. What advice would you give parents strapped for time? Is there a practical way for them to become more involved in school?
Attend at least one PTO board meeting and attend all parent-teacher conferences.
Spend at least 15 minutes a day reading with your child.
We all make time for what we really want. If you just have to watch that TV show every night, do it while cutting something out or baking for your child's class and do it with your child.
Think about what skills that you have that you can offer. Do you speak Spanish? Tutor a child in Spanish. Can you hear? Spend time listening to a child read. Like to play basketball? Spend time with children during recess or P.E.
Q. What do you consider to be the toughest challenges facing South Carolina's schools?
The economy is the biggest challenge for S.C. schools.
For parents, it's difficult to focus on your child's education when you are worried about keeping a roof over their heads. For teachers, it's difficult to keep a child's attention when they are hungry. School districts have to continually do more with less.
With the budget cuts and furlough days, our schools need our help more than ever. The teachers and support staff are stretched to their limit.
Every parent should spend at least one hour doing something to help out a school. Even better, every community member should contact a school and ask, "What can I do?"