Although the importance of Family Engagement is quickly gaining recognition across schools, it still means a lot of different things to different people- from principals, to teachers & staff, to parents and the community. Everyone agrees that closer collaboration with families impacts student success and achievement, but a shared responsibility and common practice is yet to develop.
Yes, traditional school-wide family engagement events are plentiful – from Parent Teacher Conferences, to Open houses, Back-to-school nights and other one-and-done activities. The challenge with most of these events, is they do little to foster meaningful relationships and real connections between parents and the school community. There’s always very little time, too many people, it can be either too impersonal, or even intimidating to some families who come from very different cultural traditions, or whose native language is not English.
Being a collaborative partner to both schools and families, CIS is uniquely positioned to bridge understanding between staff and the communities they serve; and create family engagement opportunities that are collaborative, culturally competent, as well as support student learning.
Through building strong relationships with families, and cultivating meaningful partnerships over 3 years with staff, our Gunston Middle School site coordinator brought together a team made up of 3 different departments across the school and two non-profits to implement a high-impact, interactive and fun literacy night for the school’s most isolated families. The event was not only an opportunity to encourage families and students to share their cultural experience and celebrate their diversity, but also to assure parents that their voice, hopes, and dreams matter in their child’s educational development and that staff are accessible, real people who are allies and partners on that journey.
At the event, as students listened to their parents describe their own experience of middle school; amazed by the truthful exchange, they developed and recited stories of common themes and challenges between their parents’ and their own interests, family life and experiences. Behind them the school’s art teacher sketched and illustrated colorful storyboards of their lives for all to see. And the sense of growing pride parents revealed while their family’s story unfolded to the group at large was unmistakable. School staff expressed a similar sense of excitement, appreciation, as they learned more about their students’ families and pieced together their lives. And in that moment a sense of community was established.
These very special moments where students, their parents and teachers come together and feel a common sense of purpose and achievement don’t just happen by themselves. They are created deliberately, through a shared desire and responsibility.
Through concerted effort overtime to build close collaborative partnerships with teachers; and trusting, long-standing relationships with parents, our coordinators ensure families feel connected to their school communities, and have a voice in influencing their child’s future positively. The more parents practice advocacy for their children, and become partners to their schools, the more schools can overcome challenges with achievement. CIS bridges that gap by creating partnership programs between families and teachers that are built on real relationships, address differences, support advocacy and impact student learning positively.