George Lucas Educational Foundation
Parent Partnership

With Family Engagement, Do We Need to Separate to Integrate?

September 26, 2014

When it comes to engaging all family members (dads, grandparents, foster parents, ELL) in a child’s learning, the classroom, or the school, do we need to separate to integrate? Or can we build engagement by all, through activities and events meant for all? By creating specific opportunities for a select group, does it help them get their feet wet and in turn give them the confidence to participate in the everyday activities?

It seems with many schools, when you look at the general population that attends and leads the average school event and/or activity, it is often the moms...moms that speak English (or whatever the local language is). I think it is important to point out, recognize and share with our school community, that engagement does not require a physical presence at the school. Supporting a child’s sense of self, wonder and well-being from home is of great importance.

In focusing on how to engage these other stakeholders, who should be responsible? Ultimately, I think it falls in the lap of all school leaders; building level admin, teachers and parents. Families may approach each of these leaders for different reasons. They may also see them as a trusted resource on differing topics.

So what what are some ways to approach these groups we try so hard to include? Some that our school has tried, or that I have seen others try are:

  • Take your events or PTO meetings out to the community, in their neighborhoods, to places such as community centers, public libraries, or places of worship. Connect with them in a setting they are most comfortable with already.
  • Host events at school such as Donuts with Dad, or as Tony Sinanis does at Cantiague Elementary, “Guys Day”.
  • Bring family members in to be guest speakers for a lesson that is associated with their home country, culture, career or hobby.
  • Share newsletters, flyers and videos in some of your most popular languages spoken.
  • Have the students do the inviting.
  • Host events like math night (we always get a great, diverse turn-out for ours) or literacy/reading event where the focus isn’t only on books, but also including materials like newspaper comic strips or sports pages.
  • Vary the day and times of events (consider work schedules and times/days of worship/praying)
  • Mention the stakeholders in the invite. Remind them that English is not a necessity to participate, or that grandparents are welcome.
  • Ask the groups you are looking to engage, how they view engagement, what ways would they like to be involved and if there is anything that prevents them from participating.
  • Share tips on how to play an active role without actually being at the school...and ask them to share in return.

Our children and schools benefit the greatest when the entire community contributes. I feel that how we invite and welcome different individuals, requires a different approach at times. How do you engage everyone and convey they are making a difference in the life of a child?

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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