Examples of Parent Engagement
Our Lady of Lourdes has an active parent volunteer community that is engaged in the school in a variety of ways. As with other schools in the diocese, parents who enroll their students at Our Lady of Lourdes are encouraged to join the school’s Parent Support Group (PSG). This volunteer group, which is overseen by the school principal and executive of the school board, plays a key role in coordinating social activities and fundraising projects for the school. The PSG meets monthly to plan major initiatives, which have included dances, barbecues, Christmas concerts, a pancake dinner, and drama productions. Through this group, the parents also sponsor and prepare a weekly hot-lunch program, drive students to seniors’ centres, help with uniforms, and facilitate hosting arrangements for international students. The PSG provides funds for classroom technology, such as Chromebooks and projectors, as well as technology support when needed.
Parents from the local parish can also be appointed to serve on Our Lady of Lourdes’s school council, the governing body responsible for the school’s finances as well as setting its policies and procedures. This group and the PSG are active in their fundraising efforts, organizing a number of events, and ensuring these events are well attended, by promoting them throughout their personal networks. The largest and most successful event of the year is the “Black Tie” evening, when the parents transform the gym into a ballroom and run a silent auction. The PSG also runs a pub night, a circus-themed event, and a back-to-school breakfast; the school council hosts a trivia night in the spring. Given that Our Lady of Lourdes is an independent school and as such receives 50 percent of the per-student funding (and none of the capital funding) that public schools receive from the provincial government, the revenue generated through these fundraising initiatives is crucial to the financial sustainability of the school.
Parents help at lunchtime
An encouraging message
In addition to providing financial support, parents at Our Lady of Lourdes share their skills with the school in a myriad of ways—some directly related to education and others to the general operation of the school. One parent, for example, “helps prepare all of the marketing materials for the school” (Grootjes 2019), while others volunteer at Mass and prayer activities. Parents are invited to volunteer in classrooms, coach athletic teams, supervise and provide transportation for field trips, and help with drama productions and music clubs. As environmentalists, medical doctors, dentists, pilots, flight attendants, and more, parents are invited to children’s classrooms as guest speakers. A parent in the community who runs wine tours has made arrangements with the school to use the tour buses for field trips. In many ways, parents and educators are partners at Our Lady of Lourdes.
The school’s custodians—a husband-and-wife team who have been involved at Our Lady of Lourdes for twenty five years as parents, employees, and parishioners—are recognized throughout the school district for their ability to build relationships with and tap into the resources of the community. When Our Lady of Lourdes installed a new accessible playground, for instance, the custodians played a leading role in mobilizing parent and parish volunteers; they also organized donations of coffee and sandwiches from local businesses as well as backhoe equipment and other services. The custodial team often turns to parents when the school needs electrical, plumbing, or general maintenance and repair services.
The Culture Connection
The high level of parental engagement at Our Lady of Lourdes is an extension of the close-knit, supportive culture that characterizes the school as a whole. In addition to being invited to volunteer when opportunities arise, parents are greeted each time they visit the school, which for some is daily: “We don’t have buses, so the parents are at the school in the morning and afternoon and it becomes a community because of visiting, knowing the parents well, and helping in the classroom.” The students appreciate their parents’ involvement; they enjoy seeing them around the school and on field trips. One educator highlighted the sense of pride expressed by many students when their parents volunteer at the school: “My young students are often making comments like, ‘My mom did that,’ or ‘My dad helped with that.’”