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Teachers' pets. Volunteer parents put spin and spice on their children's classroom studies

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ON the night of the Central Elementary School open house, the teacher's enthusiasm was contagious. The classroom was decorated with the children's drawings and notebooks. Each was a promise of achievements to come.

As Pat Cordery zestfully recounted her goals for the class, parents couldn't help getting caught up in the excitement.

Then she said it:

``Of course, much of what can be accomplished here depends on you. I can cover the basics, but with 28 children in the room, one person can only do so much. It's your support and your active participation that make a rich and varied school experience possible. Won't you please help by signing up to volunteer?''

The request came as a jolt.

To many parents already feeling stretched to the limit by responsibilities to work and family, it felt like one more burden. Besides, some asked themselves, what could I do that would really count?

A little bit can go a long way, maintain teachers and other proponents of parental involvement in the public schools.

According to educator Joyce Epstein, research over the last two decades shows that parent involvement is an important component of effective schools. Such involvement can take many forms, requires no special skills, and can be less time-consuming than one might think.

Ms. Epstein is director of the Baltimore-based Family and School Connections Project at the Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools (Johns Hopkins University).

``The evidence is clear that parental encouragement, activities, and interest at home and participation in schools and classrooms, affect children's achievements, attitudes, and aspirations, even after student ability and family socioeconomic status are taken into account,'' Epstein writes.

Helping in the classroom

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