Family Engagement a Shared Responsibility

Family engagement in education is much more than parents helping a child with their most challenging homework or simply attending a single parent-teacher conference. It is more than incidental involvement. Rather, family engagement is a comprehensive alliance among the entire family, school, and surrounding community. The Harvard Family Research Project specifically defines family engagement as being “a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.”

Family engagement begins at home. Simple daily activities, such as discussing the school day and helping with homework, are important first steps. Parents with more time are encouraged to take more active roles outside the home, attending school functions and activities such as athletic events, musical performances, as well as other educational school and community events, with the entire family. Parents may also begin to engage with school teachers and administrators by volunteering at these events, chaperoning field trips, and becoming active members of parent-teacher and other supporting organizations.

While active encouragement and support by all family members is essential, family engagement in education truly begins by establishing and expanding these mutually-beneficial relationships among these families and their school district. A welcoming and approachable school environment encourages families to give feedback on their child’s experiences, and then have meaningful dialogue with teachers and administrators about opportunities for improvement. Schools, in return, then have more information about students’ strengths to nurture their success, as well as community input on the most positive and challenging aspects of their educational structures and systems.

Eastern Ohio Education Partnership (EOEP), in partnership with W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is fostering these mutually-beneficial relationships by piloting new Family Engagement initiatives, beginning with an extensive needs assessment in Warren City School District. Area residents are currently knocking on doors to survey families across the community about educational successes, challenges, and opportunities. At the same time, they are collecting contact information from parents and families desiring more mutually-beneficial relationships with school teachers and administrators for their own and other students’ success. Community needs assessment surveys may also be completed online.

The analysis of this assessment data will help identify the focus and priorities of several Parent Café events to be held in Warren this fall. The Parent Café model of guided conversations around predetermined questions at various tables in an informal relaxed setting is specifically designed to inspire individuals, enrich conversations, and build active engagement among participants. EOEP will host these café sessions at a number of different sites, such as churches and public housing developments, while also providing free childcare and a light meal, to maximize community involvement. The Parent Café dates, times, and locations will be announced through the media and online shortly. Anyone submitting their contact information through the needs assessment survey, or through our web page, will receive personal notification by phone or email.

Feedback from the Parent Cafes, when combined with assessment data, will chart a clear path to future family engagement opportunities and initiatives, complementing the strong work already being done by many Mahoning Valley schools. Together in collaboration with school, community, and parent leadership, we will continue identifying and eliminating barriers to educational success.