With society on perpetual fast-forward, parents everywhere face the daily challenge of setting aside meaningful time to spend with their children. The obstacles are legion: work, sports, video games, birthday parties, smartphones, the traffic on 75 and on and on. Just gathering the family at the dinner table can be logistically vexing. And once assembled, the following discourse plays out all too often:

Parent: “How was your day?”

Child: (shrugs) “Fine.”

Parent: “What did you learn at school today?”

Child: (shrugs) “Can I have some more fries?”

The staff of Malvern Elementary understand how hard it is for parents to keep in step with their kids’ education, to know what their kids are learning and how to reinforce that learning -- to bridge the gap between home and school.

To point them in the right direction, Malvern held their first annual Bridge to Success Night in November.

“The primary goal for Bridge to Success Night was to create an event that would be engaging and interactive for our families while providing meaningful educational activities that could be duplicated at home,” said Dr. Amber Epperson, principal.

“Parents are very busy and their time is valuable, so we want to continually give them resources and easy ideas to help them engage with their children at home.”

With community support from Sidekicks Martial Arts, My Fit Foods, the City of McKinney and The Home Depot, the teachers of Malvern Elementary offered a wide array of grade-level activities, tips and tricks to help parents engage their children -- and to have fun doing it.

Upbeat music poured out of the gym as families shot baskets at one end of the court and visited sponsor booths around the perimeter -- all promoting the theme of “Bridging Family to a Healthy Lifestyle.”

The sounds of small-scale construction echoed throughout the cafeteria as students built wooden trucks and other projects with materials provided by The Home Depot.


With a digital fire roaring on the TV monitor, conversation starters were the topic in one classroom as parents learned some simple approaches to focus dinnertime discussions and eliminate stonewalling.  In a math classroom, families used simple card games to learn math skills. In another, children with playing cards stuck to their foreheads laughed as they practiced addition and subtraction.

Down the fifth grade hall, science and math teacher Pam Johnson donned her apron and a chef’s hat and demonstrated how parents can help their kids learn fractions in the kitchen making something as simple as trail mix.

“I think kids are a little intimidated by fractions sometimes,” said Johnson.

“They hear that word, and -- even the parents -- their eyes get real big. We’re just trying to show them the everyday connection. And, not only with cooking and measurement. Some of our parents work in construction, and so they measure and cut wood, and if everybody can talk about it where they see it everyday, hopefully they won’t be as intimidated.”

Talking about it outside of school is the key. “We see our parents as partners in educating their children, and we are committed to giving our families the information and resources they need to partner with us successfully,” said Epperson.

And the parents are ready to make use of those resources. “Oh, yeah,” said Montana Willems the parent of a Malvern third-grader. “Because I help her with her homework. I know how to do the math UPS [“Understand, Plan, Solve”] check because I’m used to using the calculator. So, learning how to start all over again is helping me help her. So, that way I don’t just say, ‘Ok, let’s just check the calculator real quick.’”

All over the school, parents and students discovered opportunities for reinforcing learning at home, and for Epperson, the night was a promising start for a fun, free event that Malvern intends to host every year.

“We were encouraged to see our children and parents interacting together and talking about learning. They were having fun and enjoying quality family time, and every experience was supporting our educational work at school,” she said.

“We are committed to providing meaningful experiences when we invite families into the school, and their participation is appreciated. We can accomplish our goals when we ‘bridge the gap’ between home and school by coming together with a common purpose -- the education of our children.”

And, possibly, bridging that gap can help parents take advantage of teachable moments with their children -- those invaluable times that are so hard to come by these days. And, perhaps it will begin to change the way children think about school and their parents role in it.

Parent: “What did you learn at school today?”

Child:  “How much time have you got?”

Parent: “All the time you need, kiddo. All the time you need.”

About the author: Shane Mauldin is a McKinney ISD Communications Specialist. You can reach him at 469-302-4007 or via email at smauldin@mckinneyisd.net.

About McKinney ISD

One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,000 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, one alternative school and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at mckinneyisd.net.