“Family engagement is an essential ingredient for student success!” – Dr. Karen Mapp
There’s a popular neighborhood saying, “family over everything”, which ironically is quite the opposite of what it actually happening with modern day American families in school Districts across the Nation. Pew Research Center stated in a recent article that “Two parent families are on the decline in America!” This statement is proven by the high rates of divorce, prison entry and death rates. The Pew’s article on social change discusses how changes in family unit have been happening for decades. The changes in the family structure have definitely been seen in how schools operate and succeed. School Districts across the Nation have challenges with understanding and implementing successful family engagement best practices. What we have learned is that many programs, organizations and some school Districts are using Parent Engagement strategies that are outdated. Parent engagement and family engagement have similar goals but speak to different audiences, hence “parent” and “family”.
As a long time advocate and Educator around this work, I’ve been able to gauge what families think about how they’re engaged by their school leaders and districts. If they are a grandparent, god parent, foster parent, homeless shelter Director, family member or loved one caring for children, information sent home under “parent engagement” doesn’t connect to them. This isn’t just a communication problem, but an engagement problem. The love and support from adults who are in a position to step into the role of parents and rear school aged children is significantly critical to how the children succeed. My belief is that unconditional love in any household will allow children reared by it to find their purpose in life and truly be able to live it out. We play a role in the failure of children by not fully supporting families and communities that have a huge stake in rearing children. Effective family engagement programs ultimately helps children to find success, handle stress and deal with disappointments appropriately. These best practices of family engagement help to eliminate the many road blocks that come to those who don’t understand how to engage with schools and districts. However, school districts can create unwanted road blocks simply in the way that they communicate information to and about the families they serve. Family engagement also helps support programs such as SEL (Social Emotional Learning), which practices are so needed in schools and communities. Effective collaboration through family engagement support helps schools in some of the following areas:
- Emotional development
- Behavior and Discipline
How families are supported, engaged and connected sets the atmosphere for engagement within community and schools. Children going through the loss of a parent by death, divorce, imprisonment or separation is life changing. It interrupts their most critical development stage that can be displayed in the remainder matriculation through grade school. Formerly teaching in the Atlanta public schools system, I have witnessed several children having a parent die in the school year, or a parent incarcerated, etc. This is very devastating for them, as well as Educators, having to handle grief on that magnitude at such a young age. In fact, it’s almost changes their entire personality. I’ve witnessed students who are forced to become someone almost outside of themselves because life tragedies. That’s how important parenthood, family and demonstrating love to children is on their development. Early development in children is critical to habits, routines and coping mechanisms they will use as adults. Family engagement helps to support and empower families to restore and reclaim students experiencing success tragedies.
A 2009 report on marriage in America by the Institute for American Values in America highlights how marriages have changed since 1950’s. Over the last several decades, marriage has become less common than before the age of technology and social media. Os Hillman stated about family that culture is shaped positively or negatively by early childhood experiences. Family and community engagement are more critical than we may think. How we view family, impacts our way of life and the success of our children. Perspective is key! The saying, “it takes a village to raise a child!”, was once very popular among American households and communities. Now, you have next door neighbors you don’t know, residents in your community you may be fearful of even speaking to and less of a feel for family even within schools. In advocating for family and community engagement, I empower others to see that where we live, what we believe and how we love determines how we engage with students and families we support. In order for our children to have a better opportunities academically, economically and holistically, it begins with engagement.
The strength of a school’s success is dependent on how it engages it’s families and communities!
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.