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Students lead parent-teacher conferences

CMSD’s Campus International has achieved 100 percent participation in parent-teacher conferences, in part, by letting students lead the discussion.

Students were at the forefront  again Tuesday as Campus joined schools across the District in hosting spring conferences. The children demonstrated their work, reflected on who they are as students and talked about their individual goals and progress in reaching them. Their participation gives parents or caregivers more incentive to attend.
Spring parent-teacher conferences aim for high attendance.

“We would like to see those at other schools, it’s a best practice,” said Tracy Hill, CMSD’s executive director of family and community engagement. “The students invite their parents and they share their story.”

The state law that enacted Cleveland's Plan for Transforming Schools, also known as The Cleveland Plan, requires that all parents or caregivers have face-to-face contact with their children’s schools each year. Districtwide, the number had reached about 75 percent by the end of the first semester.

Campus International, a K-6 school that will expand a grade per year through high school, is located at Cleveland State University and operated in partnership with CSU. An International Baccalaureate school, Campus teaches a globally minded curriculum, which includes instruction in Mandarin Chinese.

Principal Julie Beers, who has led Campus International since it opened in August 2010, brought the concept of student-led conferences with her from her former school in Cleveland Heights.

Parent participation received a push throughout the week, with teachers scheduling conferences in the afternoons for those parents who could not make it Tuesday. If necessary, teachers included parents by phone.

Beers said the children were excited and rehearsed for the conferences. She that because of the format, the students get as much as their parents do from the discussions – and perhaps gain more.

“This is an opportunity to take a look at the whole child and goals: What’s the student going to do? What’s the teacher going to do? What’s the parent going to do?” Beers said. “I think it’s more important that the children know how they’re doing and the goals they need to meet.”

Trinity Wilson, a third-grader who sometimes shies from the spotlight, engaged in self-reflection Tuesday as she and her parents, Melvin and Tiffany, huddled with teacher Dora Bechtel. The three have gotten to know each other well -- Bechtel was assigned to teach the same group of students from first through third grades.

With prompting from her teacher, Trinity spoke of her efforts to take more risks and her success in achieving or surpassing “value added” – the amount of progress expected in a year – in English and math.

Trinity also read a “persuasive essay” she had written, making the case for receiving a cell phone by the time she turns 10. Bechtel applauded her student for citing safety reasons, smart strategy when your father is a Cleveland police sergeant. A rough draft was addressed to both parents, but the final version listed only Mom, who acknowledged that she is the “one who needs convincing.” 

“We both enjoy the conferences,” said Melvin, who took the day off to attend. “We haven’t missed one.”

In Kathy Taylor’s kindergarten classroom, parents and children moved among stations where the students showed their skills at math, reading and writing and examined a “learner profile” that reveals how the students view themselves.

Taylor waited at the end of the line to field questions and observations. She said not having the teacher at the stations “changes the dynamic” and made the conferences easier on her.

“By the time I’m done I will have had conferences with 31 people, and I’m not going to be exhausted or winded,” she said.

Campus International is full this year at 450 students and will be at an increased capacity of 560 when seventh grade is added in the fall.