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The state is taking an unusual step to try to get parents involved in their child's education. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The state is taking the extraordinary step of offering rewards to parents who take part in their child's education.

The program, called BE ENGAGED, was announced by the state Department of Education.

It will allow parents to download an app – called PimsPoints – good for coupons in exchange for attending a parent-teacher conference, a public school open house or other gatherings.

The app will notify parents when they have a chance to get involved in their student's school activities as well as pointers on student learning.

Those who take part can exchange their PimsPoints for digital rewards and coupons from restaurants, cell phone repairs or free backpacks full of school supplies.

Antiqua Hunter, coordinator for parent and family engagement, said Tuesday she disagrees with the notion the state is trying to bribe parents.

"I would say it is 2021 and we know that no matter where you are incentives work," Hunter said.

"If you are on the job there is something called merit pay."

"I wouldn't call it bribing. I would call it rewards. We are rewarding parents for being engaged at a certain level. At the end of the day who is winning? The child. Now their parents are engaged," she said.

Educators have complained for years about disinterest by parents in their student's education, especially for children struggling the most in the classroom.

Hunter said she has seen the lack of involvement as a teacher, administrator and college professor.

"Sometimes there are legitimate reasons. A lot of times their work schedules don't permit. Sometimes there are barriers that have been created, attitudes."

"They (parents) may not feel as welcome as they should when they step on campus," Hunter said. "But we are trying to identify the issues and address them."

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In a statement that accompanied the announcement, Hunter cited the state's recent plunge on key tests scores that measure what students know about math, English, science and social studies.

Scores on the spring exam, called LEAP 2025, plummeted in virtually every district in the state, which educators blamed largely on interrupted learning caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

"LEAP assessment results show that there is a great amount of intervention that has to take place at all levels and innovative method and unconventional thinking is warranted," Hunter said.

Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, was a district superintendent for 25 years, including 12 years leading public schools in Central.

Asked about the department's plan Faulk said Tuesday, "It shows the society we live in today."

He said parental involvement, including showing up parent-teacher conferences, is best for the state's youngest learners.

"The lower grades, it is not that much of a problem," Faulk said. "In middle schools you start to have issues. In high school it is very difficult."

He said he understands the department's desire to encourage parents to get involved in their child's education.

"Offering coupons and stuff like that, I don't know if that is going to work," Faulk said.

Hunter said about 26,000 parents responded to a June survey and, among other things, said they wanted better relations and communication with school systems.

"There is a list of things we are doing," she said. "And PimsPoint is another way of engaging."

Parents can download the app on their Apple or Android device starting Nov. 15.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.