Engaging Parents, Building Communities

Supporting parent engagement is one of the strategies that is often raised when discussing how to improve public education. But what exactly is meaningful parental engagement and how does it improve student outcomes?

 

Last week, the department of Education hosted a presentation to share new research on the impact of the Family Engagement Partnership (FEP), an intensive, school-wide program to help elementary school teachers in DC successfully engage their students’ families. The Flamboyan Foundation developed the FEP model with the understanding that parent engagement means much more than encouraging parents to attend PTA meetings or hold parent bake sales.

 

Indeed, since parents are the best experts on their children just as educators are experts on content and teaching, collaboration between families and schools is critical to fully supporting students’ educational development. The program works to build trusting relationships through home visits conducted by teachers and staff members with the families of their students. During these home visits, teachers and parents discuss their students’ interests and experiences in school and their shared role and responsibility in supporting their education.

 

The initial results of the program have been extremely encouraging. Researchers from John Hopkins, who led the study on the program, found that participating students had 24% fewer absences and were more likely to read at grade level; parents felt more confident in their ability to help their children with school work and actively engage in their learning; and teachers perceived a positive impact on their students in the classroom and reported higher job satisfaction.

 

After the researchers presented their findings, panelists, including a principal, a teacher and a parent, spoke about their experiences participating in the program. It was a compelling and honest discussion that illuminated the importance of parental engagement in ways that the data could not. What was clear from both the parent and the teacher -- was how mistrust and miscommunication between families and schools often acts as a real barrier to supporting students.

 

The teacher discussed how, before she began participating in the program, she would often assume that parents didn’t care about their child’s education when they failed to show up for parent teacher conferences or didn’t respond to phone calls. However, through the home visits, she realized that the parents she works with want their children to succeed and that it was her job to guide and support them in their efforts.

 

The parent on the panel discussed how her own negative experiences as a student in DC had shaped the way she had approached her child’s education and how her child had begun to adopt a similar attitude. The home visits, she said, showed her that her child’s teacher really did care about her well-being and motivated her to take an active role in supporting her daughter’s education that has lasted long after they graduated to middle school.

 

While the data from the program was impressive, it was impossible not to feel moved by the words of the panelists. I know that I was not the only attendee to leave the presentation feeling inspired about the power of collaboration between schools and the communities they serve to make a real difference in the lives of children.    

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