In Parents for Public School’s recent publication of their National  IPPS, Inside Parents for Public Schools, our president Lois Yamauchi wrote an article highlighting our Middle School Tours and Transition Nights!

At one of our recent events, Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i asked a group of parents to recall what their middle school experiences were like: “pimples,” “awkwardness,” “being self conscious,” and “getting lost” were some of the responses. One woman talked about being afraid of going to the bathroom, a place where she heard bullies hung out. Another person said, “Middle school was a time when we felt in between, older than in elementary school, but not really grown up.” Given those kinds of memories, it is easy to see why many parents express anxiety as their children transition from elementary to middle school settings. The middle school years may have been a time that parents themselves did not enjoy or that they found more difficult than other school experiences. Many may be unsure about what middle school will be like for their children and how to best meet the needs of adolescents.

In Hawai‘i, families may also hear negative rumors about public education that promote enrollment in private schools.  Says PPS of Hawai’i president, Lois Yamauchi,  “The Hawai‘i chapter has found that many people who choose private schools over public ones have never visited the public school in their neighborhood, but instead base their decision on hearsay and negative media coverage of public schools.” To work against this, PPS of Hawai‘i launched their Middle School Tours and Transition Nights to encourage families to stay in public schools by providing them with more accurate information about what public middle schools have to offer  and by helping to create a friendly bridge between elementary and middle schools.

This school year, PPS of Hawai’i will host seven middle school tours in public middle and intermediate schools on the island of O‘ahu.  Five tours have already been held at Kailua Intermediate, King Intermediate, Jarrett, Washington, and Kawananakoa Middle Schools. Additional tours are planned over the next two months. The tours are planned collaboratively with local middle and intermediate schools  and are typically two hours long. Family  members of potential students (who may bring their fifth or sixth graders along) meet school leaders and staff, hear from students, learn about each school’s vision and programs, and tour the campus to look inside classrooms.

On November 6, fifty-seven parents and other family members met at Kailua Intermediate School and toured the campus, visiting academic and elective classrooms in small groups with staff and PTA members as guides. After the tour, members of the student council answered parents’ questions about homework, the online grade program, honors classes, student activities, and clubs. Feedback from parents who attended was very positive regarding both the program offerings and the staff. Several parents said the tour helped them select the school for their child. One mom proclaimed that the tour had “absolutely changed my perception of the school.” She had been considering switching to a private school for seventh grade but was so impressed by Kailua Intermediate that, after the tour, she was convinced that her daughter would enroll there next year.

PPS of Hawai‘i works with the receiving middle schools to schedule the tours; the Chapter also coordinates the advertising to families which includes developing and delivering flyers to feeder and other elementary school families. The Chapter collects RSVPs through the website and talks with school staff about the format. The school personnel typically organize and run the tours.  Chapter members attend the tours, coordinate with schools to provide refreshments for families and help with tour evaluations. During the discussion portion of the event, chapter members talk with families about the Chapter and the importance of the parent voice at the school, district, and state level.  This is also an opportunity to invite families to become chapter members.

In addition to the daytime tours, the Chapter holds Middle School Transition Night events for families who may not be able to attend a daytime tour or want more information about what middle school will be like and how they can help their children make a smooth transition. Families have a unique opportunity to interact with principals, school staff, and experts on adolescence, and to talk with each other about their fears and hopes for their children’s middle school experiences. School staffs attend the evening events and answer questions families have about how middle school is different from elementary school. A highlight of the evening events has been a presentation by Dr. Tracy Trevorrow, a licensed clinical psychologist and Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i member. Many families who attended last year’s events suggested that Dr. Trevorrow’s presentation on early adolescence, including the behavior and brain changes and how they can support their children through this stage of life, was the most valuable part of the evening. They wanted other resources to consult about adolescence and transition to middle school. In response, the Chapter put Dr. Trevorrow’s presentation slides on our website in addition to other resources for families.

We began our middle school initiative with tours in the Honolulu area where the highest percentage of families send their children to private schools. Families often attend tours of what would be their child’s “home” school, in addition to those at other schools to which their child could commute. Last year, the group received a matching grant from PPS National in support of the tours and evening events. This year the chapter was awarded a grant from The Learning Coalition, a local foundation that provided funds to hire Program Coordinator Sue Emley for the tours and evening events.

Hawai‘i is the only state in the nation that has one statewide public school district. The school system is overseen by a single appointed school board and superintendent of schools and administered by the Hawai‘i State Department of Education. The large district is divided into complexes made up of two or three high schools and feeder middle and elementary schools.

The Middle School Tours and Transition Nights have been a great success for Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i. The program developed out of concerns that many families had about public education and has been a great way for the Chapter to reach out to both families and middle schools and to put them in touch with each other. The next major initiative for Parents for Public Schools of Hawai‘i is a statewide 1000 Family Voices listening campaign. The first effort of its kind in Hawai‘i, the Chapter will be engaging families in person at our own and other community events and via social media to find out what concerns families in Hawai’i have about their children’s education. The Chapter’s future programming will be based on these responses.