William Sederburg

OREM — One thing that makes charter schools successful is parental involvement, Utah Valley State College President William A. Sederburg told a group of about 400 charter school educators Tuesday.

And in today's era of "helicopter parents," putting those parents to work is a great idea, said Sederburg, the keynote speaker for a two-day charter school conference at UVSC, which ended Tuesday.

He said that a "helicopter parent" is one who hovers around the school — and it isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"It is the decade of the child," he said, noting that some charter schools actually require parents to put in volunteer hours at their children's school. "Parents are very involved with the education of their children."

The event was sponsored jointly by the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools and CharterSTAR, a grant through John Hancock Charter School in Pleasant Grove.

Sederburg said that during UVSC's recent student government elections, he saw parents helping their kids campaign. "A parent was handing out fliers," he said.

It reflects on the new generation, sometimes dubbed the "Millennials." They were born during the time period starting at either 1978 or 1983, and up to 1993 or 1995. They total 75 million, Sederburg said, citing a report, "Who are the Millennials," by Deloitte Consulting.

Parent Paula Beck, whose kids go to the charter school Ranches Academy in Eagle Mountain, said she feels one of the most important aspects of charter schools is the parental involvement.

"It's great to be involved in your child's education," Beck said. "That way you can know what they're learning and see if your child is struggling or needs to be challenged more."

Charter school educators need to encourage students toward higher education, Sederburg said. While higher education is expecting an influx of students soon, numbers of high school students headed to college have dropped in the state, he said.

More than a decade ago 41 percent of 18 to 24 year olds were enrolled in college. That figure has declined to 33 percent, he said, citing "Measuring Up," the national report card on education.

When it comes to having a bachelor's degree, Utah ranks 12th in the nation in the 45 to 64 age group but only 31st in the nation for the 25 to 34 age group, Sederburg said, citing the Utah Foundation.

"The data suggests we have a significant issue," Sederburg said.

A good example of a charter school steering students toward higher education is the Utah County Academy of Sciences, an early college high school charter school on UVSC campus, Sederburg said.

UCAS has about 340 students and is integrated into the curriculum at UVSC. About 80 percent of the students have a two-year degree by the time they graduate from high school. About 90 percent continue with a four-year degree, most of whom go to UVSC.

"We look upon this as a very successful experiment," Sederburg said. "We're delighted to have these young people on campus."

While percentages of high school graduates headed for college are dipping statewide, Sederburg says he still has hope. One has only to go to a children-oriented event in Utah County to see the student growth potentially headed for higher education.

Sederburg said he recently visited Orem's Summerfest parade.

"It was just a sea of young people — smiling little faces. And I was thinking of all the tuition dollars," Sederburg said. "We have a bright future here."

Sederburg says he believes, since the defeat of the voucher amendment, charter schools will be more and more important as a vehicle for providing choice within the public education system.

"And I think you're going to see a fairly healthy growth in the number of charter schools here in Utah," he said. "The issue is how do we plan for that and how do we appropriately monitor the quality and ensure the public that what they are getting is a quality product from a charter school movement."

Sederburg said he sees a student's senior year as not a time to take a break but instead to be challenged academically and continue preparing for college. "I think charter schools can fill that void if they partner with colleges and universities through concurrent enrollment or other strategies," he said.

Following the keynote, conference participants attended a day full of workshops from about 60 presenters. Topics ranged from school safety to building bridges between boards and directors.

On Monday, a workshop titled "Saturating Schools with Character Building and Civic Involvement" was taught by Alan Griffin, civics, character and academic service learning specialist at the State Office of Education.

Griffin asked the class, "Who is teaching our children to make the decisions they need to make in the future?"

Presenter Carla Kelley, with the Human Rights Education Center of Utah, instructed a class on "Teaching Empathy: Ideas and Resources." She told the educators of free educational materials they can receive from www.teachingtolerance.org.

Students can learn a great deal from films about the Holocaust such as "One Survivor Remembers," or about the civil rights movement in "The Children's March." s


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com