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Family Engagement

Family Engagement

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“The Partnership makes me feel valued as a parent and supports me in my leadership as a Community Representative at my school. They care for our community, our children, and are leaders in the fight for a better public education.”Leticia CalderonParent, Dolores Huerta Elementary

We believe that school communities and families must work together as equal partners to accelerate student outcomes and support all students to complete college.

Family engagement must be paired with core instructional strategies to bring families, district staff, school leaders, teachers, and school staff together in support of a shared vision for student success. Our experience shows us that school transformation is possible when schools have systems in place that share power with families and communities and collaborate as partners in shared decision-making processes. In under-resourced communities like the ones we work within, there is a presumption that families can’t be engaged at the level of higher-income communities because of their personal obligations. We believe that low-income families and families of color can and will participate in their child’s education, particularly when the environment and space is created to support their engagement. 

While we believe in mutual accountability for a student’s success, we feel the onus is on the school system to change to support meaningful family engagement. Our approach focuses on creating spaces where families have true power and voice to influence change at their schools. We do this by resourcing Parent Centers at every school site, coaching site-based Family Action Teams, and facilitating the Parent College program.

What Sets the Partnership Approach Apart

We build the capacities of school leaders, teachers, and families to engage in collective action for equity and student achievement. 

Parent Centers

We provide capacity building for school sites to establish and resource Parent Centers to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all parents. 

Family Action Teams

We provide capacity building for site-based Family Action Teams to develop the school’s family engagement vision and execute action plans that engage families in activities focused on student academic outcomes.

Parent College

We coordinate and host a year-long Parent College program in each of our three communities to empower parents to learn about the education system, how to prepare students for postsecondary success, and how to advocate for their children’s education.

parent centers

Across our network, we actively invest in creating welcoming, engaging, and inclusive Parent Centers and hiring and supporting a parent to serve as a Community Representative at the school site. Creating these environments is one of the first steps to ensuring more community engagement and increased attendance. 

A first step in any school’s family engagement system is to create a welcoming, inclusive, and service-oriented environment that values parents and families as partners. 

In our schools, we’ve learned that family engagement will only be successful if we first address the community-level barriers – such as racism, stereotyping, and distrust – that limit parent participation in the first place.

Parent Centers should represent the interests, cultures, and values of all families at the school and build bridges among families and school staff. They are at the core of ensuring that families feel represented, valued, and welcomed as partners in the success of the school and their child’s learning. Parent Centers are an important symbol that the school has created space for parents to act as partners in their child’s education. When staffed and supported well, Parent Centers can transform schools from those that keep parents at an arm’s distance to those that leverage parents’ talents to support school goals. 

Working directly in the Parent Center, we hire and train a Community Representative to support family engagement on site, engage families in school activities and coordinate family engagement efforts. In our intended evolution of this role, the Community Representative also supports home visits to shift the direction of the relationship between school and home.

family action teams
“Parent Centers are important spaces where parents learn together and feel empowered. It is a space where parents can lift their voices and realize they are true partners in the education of their children.”Mario GarcielitaPrincipal, 20th Street Elementary

Family Action Teams are the means by which we create a bridge between families and schools to understand one another’s priorities and work in collaboration toward shared school and community goals.

We play a key role in training and coaching Family Action Teams and providing benchmarks for successful Family Action Team development. Particular focus is placed on building the capacity of the Family Engagement teacher leader to engage families beyond the classroom by leading the Family Action Team.

Since Family Action Teams take time to coalesce, they require a longer-term commitment from the stakeholders involved, a willingness to work towards solutions together, and the ability to onboard new members when there is turnover at the school or there are gaps in family representation.

The team is co-led by the school leader and an on-site Family Engagement Lead and consists of parents, teachers, administration, and representatives from partner organizations. Site-based Family Action Teams are the vehicle through which we strive to address issues of equity through a culturally responsive approach to communication and relationship-building between school and home, engage parents in student learning and stakeholder decision-making at the school level, and establish shared accountability for achieving school goals. 

parent college

Parent College workshop topics include:

  • Academics
  • Reading & understanding report cards
  • Empowerment
  • College access, applications, and financial aid
  • Leadership & advocacy
  • Restorative Communities
  • Health & wellness
  • Parenting & child development
“We, as parents, are the first teacher for our children, and Parent College invests in embracing and developing us as leaders to help our children be successful.”Griselda PerezPartnership Parent & Member of United Parents for Educational Justice (UPEJ)

Parent College was created to help parents support and advocate for their children.

Parent College encourages parents to hold high academic expectations of their children, create a college-going culture at home, and advocate confidently for their students at school. Oftentimes, we falsely assume parents from low-income communities have a basic understanding of how our education system works. While parents with social capital can tap into networks to help them navigate and advocate for their children, parents in under-resourced schools often lack these types of resources. Our year-long program empowers parents on their rights, roles, and responsibilities through academic workshops designed to help them become engaged and informed advocates for their child’s education.  

While our Parent Centers and participation on Family Action Teams offer families opportunities to be a part of the life of school during the week, Parent College removes the barrier to family participation and engagement for those families that – because of work or other obligations – cannot be on-site during the school day. Parent College meets monthly on Saturdays in each of our three communities from September to April, and is open to all Los Angeles parents, including those outside of the Partnership network.

Workshops are typically led by Partnership teachers and community partners, and focus on how to understand measures of academic progress like report cards, attendance, state test scores, GPA, and district graduation requirements, how to build advocacy and leadership skills, and how to prepare for college, among other topics. In addition to monthly academic workshops, families also participate in University Day, a field trip to a local four-year college or university, where they hear from panels of college advisors and students, learn about campus resources, participate in a tour, and learn about how they can prepare their student for college success. 

Lessons Learned

Family engagement must be integrated with core academic priorities.

We know that family engagement is critical to moving student outcomes. One of the biggest lessons we are learning in this work is that for family engagement to be successful, it must be integrated with schoolwide literacy, math, and culture goals.

Yet we struggle with this because of the way we organize ourselves, with the team that supports Family Engagement living apart from the Academic team. This has had the effect of siloing family engagement in some of the same ways we see in the larger district. We are still learning and working to create a more integrated team that unites family engagement and instructional strategies. 

Awareness and recognition of community-level barriers are central to the work.

We know that racism, inequity, and related majority-minority stereotypes are historically rooted in the high-need, urban communities we serve and that communities have experienced generations of fear and distrust with respect to schools and to one another.

We have had our own blindspots and overlooked barriers to family and community engagement, such as the timing of events and issues of language justice, which we now work to intentionally address.

A vision for family engagement must be developed alongside families.

In a case study of our Family Engagement model, we learned that though the Partnership holds a vision for strategic and meaningful family engagement work, our vision and approach has not been evenly adopted by all school sites and staff. We are working to fix this by establishing a broader, more inclusive vision that all families support. This involves us doing a better job of designing intentional strategies for building solidarity across racial groups – including coalition building between black and brown communities and having staff that are representative and capable of building solidarity between racial groups. It also requires that we shift our practice away from working for communities and instead work with and alongside them in a way that recognizes the assets our communities already have.

Parent College has increased ownership of family engagement at school sites.

Parent College does more than support parents and families to build their knowledge of the education system and the ways they can support their child’s path to college. It also builds the capacity of teachers to lead family engagement work back at their schools. While family engagement is a known factor linked to student academic success, intentional professional development and training on family engagement is not a standard part of professional development for educators. Our model is one in which Parent College instructors, through their training and experience, become champions for family engagement at their school sites.

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