School children parents in Croatia, mostly have few opportunities to participate in decision-making of the school and the local community for their children's benefit. On the other hand, parents and other parties interested in the wellbeing of children are obliged to implement the children's rights in the best possible way which is only possible through open communication and collaboration. Parents' Association Step by Step, Croatia, is implementing the project School open to parents since 2007; which encourages collaboration between parents and schools and empowers parents to actively participate in the community.
The project is aimed principally at Parents' Councils members in schools, but the activities can include all interested parents. The Parents' Council consists of representatives from each class and one of the members is participating in the work of the School Board. The Parents' Council is established under the Law on Education in Primary and Secondary Schools, in order to achieve the task of education and linking school with the social environment. Some of the tasks of the Parents' Council are: discussing the issues relevant to the life and work of the school, providing opinion and suggestions regarding the school curriculum proposal, the annual work plan and program of the school, regarding the improvement of students’ success, educational and extra-curricular activities. Although the Parents' council open numerous opportunities for parent involvement, active participation of parents in school is often missing, and the Parents' Council exists only formally, without actual participation in the work of the school.
Project School open to parents is a result of the need for informing and educating the parents, especially the Parents' Council members. By a combination of required skills for empowerment and their active role in the establishment of partnerships between schools and families, parents become more effective in representing the interests and needs of children and families through active participation in the school activities and the local community. The project has been implemented in 14 schools in the Republic of Croatia (Primary School Ljudevita Gaja, Zaprešić; PS K. Š. Gjalskog, Zabok; PS Marija Bistrica; PS Frana Galovića, Zagreb; PS Dobriše Cesarića, Zagreb; PS Trnsko, Zagreb; PS Kuršanec; PS Sveti Đurđ; PS Ludbreg; PS Eugena Kumičića, Velika Gorica; PS Martijanec, Varaždin; PS Dr. Jure Turića, Gospić; PS Bogumila Tonija, Samobor; PS Dr. Franje Tuđmana, Lički Osik).
Activities include two workshops for members of Parents’ council and other interested parents on the topic of efficient participation in school activities and representation and advocacy of the interests of children and families in the school and the local community (Caring Communities & Empowerment for change). During the workshop, parents choose an actual problem and prepare an action plan to resolve it. Guided by trainers, they're instructed how to make a realistic and achievable plan and how cangoals and changes be achieved through small direct actions. Action plans were indeed different from school to school, and here are some.
In elementary school Dobriše Cesarića in Zagreb, detected problem was insufficient safety of children in traffic in front of the school building. Specifically, cars parked next to the pedestrian crossings block the drivers’ view so cars driving down the street can’t notice children wanting to cross the road, due to reduced visibility. The problem exists for several years, and two years ago safety speed bumps were placed. However, the problem has not been solved and children from the lower grades are especially vulnerable. For this reason the Parents' Council filed a petition to local government for setting the uprights fence to prevent parking around the pedestrian crossing. After the official letter, parents personally claimed the request, and after two months fence was actually placed.
Quick response as well as the feeling of satisfaction after successfully solving a problem encouraged parents to continue with the activities in cooperation with the school, namely arranging school playground and neglected athletic track.
Activities conducted after the workshop include follow-up meetings to review previously carried out activities and concrete results of parental action. Selection and solving of a specific problem in the community usually provides prompt results and is associated with an increase in parents' motivation and readiness for further active participation. Upon completion of the activities, parents usually bond which facilitates future communication and solving specific problems in the school as well in the local community.
In all of the schools involved in the project, satisfactory results have been achieved, but in the future they will depend on the further support to the parents. Parents need continuous encouragement. Project trainers periodically meet with parents and attend Parent council meetings to encourage parents to continue with active participation and action. Difficulties in some schools reflect the lack of interest for cooperation with parents, especially by teachers who do not recognize the importance of joint involvement in activities. Better cooperation was observed by principals and associates.
Project evaluation included two levels, the satisfaction of parents and their perceived usefulness of workshops as well as evaluation of the consequences, ie, specific changes in the school or community as a result of small organized parents’ actions.
The reactions of parents involved in workshops on advocacy were beyond all our expectations, and contrary to the widespread view that parents are not interested in school activities. Parents want to actively contribute to the improvement of their children's school, they want their opinions and suggestions to be heard, understood and respected, they are willing to invest their time, knowledge, skills and resources in the implementation of these ideas, in other words, they want to be active partners in schools. They need their involvement in the school’s activities to be recognized and accepted as valuable. They also need knowledge and skills to efficiently advocate the necessity of changes and assertive ways of representing the interests and needs of children and families.