Understanding School in America

Three main points that schools in the United States value: 

  1. Individualism: This means that students are encouraged to work by themselves for their own success. The grades students receive are a reflection of their own work. While some work may be done with others in class, each student is expected to contribute individually and produce his/her own work.
  2. Equity: In America, it is believed that every child should receive the education he/she deserves in order to reach his/her potential. Parents can advocate for additional services that may help support their child’s needs. Teachers are responsible for following through on the educational plan of each child.
  3. Choice: Parents and children have a voice in their education. This includes parents helping to decide what goals are important for a child who needs additional services to be successful. As children advance through school, parental involvement is still important but due to the value of individualism, students start to gain more independence in directing their education. 

12 Important Points to Know About School in America 

1. Role of the parent in education

a. Example of academic calendar of events

  • http://www.pps.k12.or.us/calendar/index.htm
  • At the beginning of the year most schools provide a calendar of events to help you know what is going on in your child’s school.   Parent help is usually appreciated in the classroom, in the school office, or even on the playground or at special events.  There is often a parent or staff member who coordinates parent volunteers and can give you ideas of things that would be helpful based on your skills and interests.

b. You can contact the teacher/administration with your concerns

  • If you have concerns regarding how your child is doing in class, you can phone the school and ask to talk about it with the classroom teacher.  Sometimes the school principal can attend meetings to provide additional information, ideas and support.

c. You know your child best 

  • The school is here to help you educate your child but YOU know your child better than anyone!  Any special information you can provide the teacher regarding your child’s special interests, family, and culture will help the teacher do the best job teaching your child in a way that is meaningful.
  • Many times, children require different methods of instruction to learn.  Let the teacher know how they can best help your child learn by telling them what has worked for you in the past and what they might try to help your child be successful.

d. You can advocate for your rights and bring anyone you would like to meetings at school about your child

  • http://www.pps.k12.or.us/departments/board/index.htm
  • During the school year there are certain times when the teachers will send you a report of how your child is doing in school and ask if you can come in for a conference or meeting to talk about your child. Parents are encouraged to attend these conferences. Topics will include: how you feel your child is doing, how your child is doing in the classroom with school work, with friends, and/or classroom behavior.

2. Responsibilities of the teacher

a. Creating a positive learning environment

  • The classroom should be a place where the students feel safe, supported, and ready to learn.
  • The rights of all children are respected.
  • Teachers use a variety of methods to teach your child based on his/her unique learning style.

b. Get to know each student and their individual needs 

  • It's the teacher's responsibility to create relationships with students and understand how they learn.
  • Teachers identify what your child knows and how best to advance his/her skills.

c. Teachers continually add to their teaching knowledge and skills

  • They attend additional training sessions and workshops
  • They may take additional collge courses
  • They stay current on research concerning education and the best ways to teach children

3. Expectations of a student 

a. Homework 

  • Children are asked to bring work home with them to practice what they have been learning in school.  Asking your child to see his/her homework is a great way for you to know what is being taught at school.  You can ask the teacher how often to expect your child to have homework and how long it might take them to complete the work. Parents may need to ask the teacher about homework responsibilities or directly ask their child about these responsibilities so that missed homework does not come as a surprise on progress reports.

b. Come to school on time 

  • Find out what time schools starts and plan to have your child at school 15 minutes before the start time. This will give them time to hang up his/her backpack, use the restroom and be in his/her seat and ready to learn when school starts.
  • Schools usually have a daily classroom schedule.  At the beginning of class, usually in the morning, the teacher will tell the children what they will be working on that day and give them information to help them be successful.  Many times, the start of school is where younger children can share about their family, sing songs, and review the basic reading and writing skills that they will need to be able to learn in school.  Getting to school on time is important to help your child learn.

4. School success is important

  • Children who attend school regularly and on time do better in school. Doing well in school can help your child be ready to go to college, start a job, and be an independent adult. Children who finish high school or college typically earn more money in their jobs than students who do not do well or who do not finish.

a. College Importance 

  • Going to college is valued in America and helps students become more employable. There are many jobs in the United States that require a college degree. Success during elementary through high school is important in making going to college possible. 

b. Earnings

5.There are many different people at the school who are there to help you

a. Roles of different people who work at school

  • General Education Teacher: In elementary school, your child spends most of his/her time with a teacher who teaches all subjects. As your child gets older, he/she will spend less time with a general education teacher and take more classes with Specialty Teachers.
  • Specialty Teachers: These teachers teach classes like art, music, physical education, and foreign languages. As your child gets older, these teachers will also teach science classes, math classes, and literature classes.
  • Special Education Teacher: If your child needs more help in school, he/she may be taught by a special education teacher. This teacher provides additional support for children with greater needs.
  • Speech Language Pathologist: This staff member provides additional support for children who are having trouble with their speech, language, or cognition.
  • Occupational Therapist: This staff member provides support for children who are having difficulty with fine motor and/or sensory skills.
  • Physical Therapist: This staff member works with children who need additional help with gross motor skills. This professional will also help children who are in wheelchairs or who need or have special equipment.
  • Counselor: This professional helps children who need social and emotional support. They also educate children about social skills, such as making friends, making good decisions, and resolving conflicts.
  • School Psychologist: This professional tests children who may need additional supports in order to be successful at school. These tests help other specialists identify what a child's additional needs might be and get them to appropriate services. 
  • Principal: This professional manages the school environment. They help to support teachers, staff, families, and students. 
  • Vice Principal: This professional helps the Principal deal with the administrative duties involved in running the school.
  • Administrative Staff: Many staff members help the school run smoothly. They help direct people where to go in the school and tell you who you should talk to if you have an issue.

b. Best ways to contact them

  • There are many ways to contact the school. You may be able to talk to school staff in person before and after school. You can also call the school. The number for the school is usually on the school directory or in informational packets sent home with your child. You may also email the school. The phone number and email addresses for school staff can usually be found on the school's website.
  • http://www.pps.k12.or.us/

6. Curriculum through the years

  • The curriculum is the set of skills in each subject that children are being taught each year.
  • Elementary School: Children in elementary school are usually between the grades of kindergarten through fifth grade. Children in elementary school are learning the basic skills for reading, writing, math, and understanding the world around them. They also learn to understand how to be a student. Homework is usually given each day and due the next day.
  • Middle School: Children in middle school are usually between sixth and eighth grade. They begin to learn more advanced subjects that prepare them for high school. During this time, students begin to move between classrooms more and have more Specialty Teachers. The homework load is likely to increase during this time. Homework may involve more reading assignments, writing assignments, and projects.
  • High School: Students in high school are between ninth and twelfth grade. Students in high school move from classroom to classroom throughout the day. While they follow a general curriculum, they may have a choice in which specialty classes they take, usually called electives. Students usually get to choose which electives they take based on their interests. Students are expected to be more independent during high school. Teachers may give fewer reminders about assignments and expect students to take more responsibility for their learning. Homework may involve essays, reading, projects, and preparing for tests.

7. After school activities

  • Most schools provide before and after school day care for your children. There may be a fee for day care. You should contact your school about their program if you are interested in this service.
  • There are many resources available for students who want programs outside of classwork. Every school provides different resources. Here are some websites that may be helpful:

Portland Parks and Recreation
SUN Community Schools (The SUN Program)

8. The culture of school

a. School etiquette and dress code

  • Many schools have guidelines for appropriate clothing to wear to school. This should typically be described at the beginning of the year. If you or your child has questions about your school's dress code, you should contact your school.

b. Items to leave at home

  • Students are not allowed to bring weapons, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, pornography, or other items that may be dangerous or disruptive to the learning environment. Some schools may have additional items that are not allowed.

c. Appropriate topics for school 

  • Students are expected to use appropriate and safe language. Students are not allowed to use swear words or make inappropriate sexual comments. 

9. Transportation to school 

  • There are many ways to get your child to school. Some parents drive, bike or walk their children to and from school. If children are old enough, sometimes they walk by themselves. In addition, some children take the school bus or the public bus.

a. School bus

  • Some schools have their own school buses that pick children up and take them home from school. School bus stops may not be right outside of your house, so it is important to know where the closest bus stop is. If you are unsure if your school has buses for children, you should contact your school.

b. Trimet/bus passes

  • Trimet is a public transportation organization. Trimet passes can be bought for your child at a discounted rate. They offer monthly and yearly passes. 
  • http://trimet.org/

10. Family resources

a. School districts provide support and additional resources for families such as health insurance, dental care, and clothing closets

b. Free and reduced meals

c. Library

  • The school library has many books that your child may check out, take home and return later. There is also a city library system that has a larger selection for children and adults, too.
  • https://multcolib.org/

11. When you have special concerns about your child

  • If you or your child’s teacher have concerns about your child’s learning in either language, you can ask to meet with your child’s teacher and the special education team to discuss your concerns. Sometimes children have difficulty in school that is not related to speaking a second language and they may benefit from additional help. 
  • If you feel that your child is having difficulty with his/her school work, ability to make friends, or behavior, there are ways that the school can help.  
  • First let the teacher know that you are concerned and you would like to talk about your child’s progress in school. There are times when a teacher may contact a parent first with concerns about a child. That is OK. They want to help your child learn, and they need your help. You can ask to have a meeting with the teacher and other staff and specialists who support children. 
  • http://www.pps.k12.or.us/departments/special-education/3741.htm

If your child needs extra help in the area of special education, the school must provide education for your child. You are a part of the decision making team.  There are federal laws in the United States that support students with disabilities in public schools.

12. You and your family are an asset to the school community! If you need more access to resources, ask your school for information!


References and Resources. 

Original contributers: Rebecca Dunn, Teresa Hill, Haylee Jenkins, Julia Knutsen Schrader & Ali Skogrand Spring 2013