BY KRISTA RAMSEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It's that one night of the year when you get dressed up, knock on a door, are welcomed in and have people guess who you are.
Then you leave with something sweet or some terrible surprises. Forget trick-or-treat. We're talking about parent-teacher conferences.
For parents, this fall ritual can range from an evening of pride to a night of discomfort to pure terror. For children, it's a night to be not seen and not heard, because they are discussed in absentia. Most of us remember watching our own parents head off to meet our teacher, and calling after them, "Promise not to open my desk," or "Whatever she says about me biting Harry is a lie."
Then for the next hour we were left to glower at the baby sitter and worry.
So here's good news for parents and kids: A number of local schools are creating some interesting variations on parent-teacher conferences. Probably none does it better than Shroder Paideia Middle School in Kennedy Heights.
Parents, students prepare
Two years ago, one of the school's teaching teams won statewide distinction with an Ohio's BEST Practices award for its student-led parent conferences.
The student not only attends the conference, he or she is in charge of it.
That's a major improvement.
No longer does a parent have to guess what his child does or doesn't know. The Shroder students have spent days carefully preparing to explain, subject by subject, what they have studied that grading period.
They show their parents a folder of homework, tests and projects, and even quiz Mom and Dad on information they themselves have mastered.
At some point, the students even cover their own behavior. They may explain that they have a small problem with "off-task talking," for example. By the end of the 30-minute conference, they will have covered six mandatory subjects and discussed at least one goal for the remainder of the term. Multiple conferences occur simultaneously, which saves everybody's time, and teachers float among them, answering questions and making sure students don't offer an overly optimistic report.
Parent Mary Settles left her conference with a clear picture of how her son Cameren was performing in the classroom. "I looked at my husband and said, "Man, I didn't know he knew all this.' "
Instead of being a closed, exclusive meeting between parents and teacher, the conference became a true family project. Cameren's parents, grandparents and cousin all attended.
"It made it fun," Mrs. Settles said. "We all learned. My son loves the fact that when he does these student-led conferences, his opinion really matters. It shows the teachers have confidence in my child."
Perhaps because the evening is more comfortable for everyone, parents are more willing to attend. At Shroder, parent attendance rose from 5 percent for traditional conferences to 89 percent for student-led conferences.
As one parent wrote in evaluating the program, "Thank you for such a creative way to speak to my child."
For more information on starting student-led conferences, contact Barb Scholtz at Shroder Paideia Middle School, 458-2040.
Teacher Barb Scholtz said everyone likes the new approach. "It's a chance to let parents be the primary partners and most important teachers of their children. They see what's really going on with their kids, and that we're not there to beat up on the parents. It's a way to gain the allies that parents can be, and not to make them the adversaries."
It is also, in a sense, the ultimate in accountability.
The buck stops not with Mom and Dad or the fourth-grade teacher, but with Susie and Freddy.
Having students accept both the praise and the responsibility for their own performance is one of the ways to make education work best.
Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.