Bridging the Gap Between Community and Family Engagement

Guest blogger: NAFSCE Member Jason B. Allen

The definition for Community Engagement refers to the process by which community benefit organizations and individuals build ongoing, permanent relationships for the purpose of applying a collective vision for the benefit of a school community.

Family Engagement can be defined as family-centered and strengths-based approach to partnering with families in making decisions, setting goals, and achieving desired academic outcomes. I want to highlight three areas to help bridge the gap between community and family engagement by providing examples, a story and strategies.

How to Build Effective Relationships:

The first standard we utilize in Family Engagement is “Welcoming All Families”. What does this mean for a District and school family engagement program? It begins with the understanding that everyone plays a part in driving this goal, not just the PIC, Parent Liaison or Title I Coordinator. Welcoming all families begins with the bus drivers, the Crossing Guards, the Front Office Staff, the morning greeters . . . this standard is a definitely a collaborative effort. When we think about welcoming all families it directly connects to building relationships. In order for our schools, faculty, staff and Family Engagement programs to be successful, we must know our target audience.

As we build relationships, it’s critically important for us to meet people where they are, have an open mind, maintain a positive outlook and be respectful of cultural difference. How can this be done? Bring your talents to the table. Parent and community groups can come together and make support signs as a school and community fundraiser showing support for education.

As we are working to build great students, schools and families, like many of us, I’ve learned that there is a gap between how communities, families and schools can effectively work together through community and family engagement. Schools can provide parents with a survey to evaluate what they need to help continue learning at home (academically, socially, culturally, and economically). The data collected from the survey will help the school build better relationships with the community, city and country resources and potential partners to meet the needs of their families.

Success Story: About three years ago, one of my former schools utilized a survey I provided to them to send out to their families at the beginning of the year. From that survey, the school discovered they had a unique population of “single dads!” Well, it’s very unique because in our society we always hear a lot about single mothers. Our Family Engagement Team came together and I helped them develop some creative ways to engage more male figures in their schools. One thing we concluded is that men like to be actively engaged. A best practice we utilized at this school was developing a Male Academic Initiative that not only met the academic needs but allowed the school to develop partnerships with teachers and partners to provide additional support i.e. mentoring, job training, volunteering, and parenting support groups. The initiative became something that not only the Family Engagement team took a part of but the school family. This allowed a deeper analysis of the survey and helped develop various ways the school could creatively meet the needs of various parent segments of the school and build academic support for the students. It’s critical important to remember that in bridging the gap between community and family engagement, we must first know the needs of our audience (families).

Connecting Community & Family Engagement:

Here are some ways that connecting community & family engagement in your school may help to bridge the gap!

-Creating a Community & Family Directory to include local businesses, schools, parent group information, community support group information, city and county resources, local churches and shelters

– Have a Community Meet & Greet (open house) at the school for school faculty, staff and families to interact and engage with the community (residents, businesses, etc.) and showcase what the school is offering for families and what are areas the school needs support from the community

-Develop a Family Engagement Team at the school the connects all areas, Academics, Title I, Social Services and Community and Parent Support groups.

Author Bio:

Jason B. Allen is a native of Atlanta, Georgia who has been in Education over 10 years. Family and community engagement are the key to student and school success is his motto.