Several math circles, including those in San Diego and Berkeley, host a yearly meeting especially for parents of students attending the circle. This event is usually held at the same time as the regularly scheduled math circle at some point during the autumn; perhaps during October or early November. Such a meeting is a sound idea for any math circle which relies on parents in a significant way, financially or otherwise. This sort of gathering is particularly well-suited for circles in which regular contact with parents is minimal or non-existent; for example, if parents are only able to drop students off at the door of the building due to parking restrictions.
There are many good reasons to make an annual tradition out of meeting with the adults associated with a math circle. Just as with Back-to-School nights, there will probably be no better chance to describe in glowing terms the positive mathematical impact a math circle can have on students and to outline exactly how parent's contributions are translated into bringing about this experience. In the same breath, one could call for volunteers to help with the math circle. Finally, parents would appreciate the chance to ask questions and learn first-hand what their children have been doing all those weeks.
In light of these purposes, a sample agenda for the fall parent meeting might look something like the following. To begin, acknowledge all the people and organizations who have made the math circle possible. This would be a good time to invite a representative to say a few words on behalf of a major donor, if applicable. One might also recognize the host institution, regular instructors, and volunteers who have helped out in the past. The next logical step is to give an idea of what transpires in a typical math circle. The most effective means would be to conduct a miniature ten-minute presentation on a suitably enticing yet elementary topic. Alternatively (or additionally) a student or two could talk about what usually takes place and why they enjoy participating. There is no substitute for testimonials when it comes to securing support.
Once parents have a sense of what occurs and why it is worthwhile, take a few minutes to explain in clear and specific terms how parents can support the math circle. These might include details on how to make donations, where to sign up for bringing snacks, what transportation needs exist, or whether parents could help to advertise the circle at local schools to build the program. Finally, open the floor for questions and comments. Ask parents if they have any observations or suggestions to make based on feedback they have obtained from their children. Aside from fielding questions, the end of the meeting is also an appropriate time for alerting parents to other resources for their children, such as math Olympiads or summer programs that the organizers endorse.
When rallied effectively, parents can be a powerful force for advancing a math circle. When the San Diego Math Circle enlisted the aid of their parents in order to increase attendance, the size of the group exploded from less than twenty to around one hundred fifty students! Berkeley Math Circle parents organized a subsequent meeting of their own initiative in which they hatched a plan for a Christmas party where students would create mathematically-themed tree ornaments and enjoy cookies and punch. The moral of this story is not to underestimate the resources available to math circle organizers in the form of parental support, and to seriously consider holding a meeting to mobilize this support each fall.
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