“Families have to see themselves embedded in the school’s culture in order to really be engaged!” EdConnect is an educational non-profit started by local educational advocate, Danielle LeSure. She wanted to teach parents about their school choice options across Georgia. Communication is a common challenge with engaging and connecting families. Positive communication requires that faculty and staff members are friendly, trusting and intentional about building relationships with the students, families and communities they serve. Think about how hard it is to be sure you are providing the right education for your children. Parents struggle with this every day. Private school is totally out of reach for many parents. The waiting lists for charter schools only seem to get longer and longer. How we communicate standards, data and school achievement effects how stakeholders view the school. Here are some challenges in connecting families to schools.
Challenge 1- Understanding Advocacy : A lot of stakeholders don’t understand the power of advocacy or the call to advocate. Every advocate (parent, student or stakeholder) has an agenda or topic of interest that they focus in on. It can span from policy development, special education, black students, equity in schools, teachers quality, etc.; all advocates have a mission that they want supported. All parents are advocates.To me, it is the responsibility of parents to advocate for their children’s needs. There are grandparents for example who often stand in the gap for children who need SEL support due to trauma. There are parents with children who walk or bike to school bring up safety issues around safe routes to school. Every parent and a guardian has a special interest that they speak up and out for their children. However big or small the concerns, parents often times don’t realize that lifting their voices for the betterment of services and support for children is advocacy. Often times advocacy isn’t happening because parents and stakeholders don’t understand how to do it. I would recommend parents and stakeholders checking into national organizations such as 50 Can and NAFSCE for help with advocacy tips.
Challenge 2 – Understanding Curriculum : If you ask a teacher the biggest challenge with continuing education at home, I promise you that homework will always come up. We know that there is an issue with student success when parents aren’t able to help their children continue learning at home. Technology is a resource and it’s also a barrier. Whether parents have access to it, know how to access it or the overwhelming number of resources that come up when searched are barriers to why parents aren’t effectively helping their children at home with lessons. I would also add that like children, parents need a lesson plan too! I believe that helping students develop better notes that can be reviewed and providing online examples for parents helps. Challenges with curriculum are most evident when parents aren’t involved in parent teacher conferences, curriculum nights, online support, grading systems and testing schedules. These things can be overwhelming for families and create barriers for them to be connected.
Challenge 3 – Understanding Policy Development : We cannot consider efforts to turn around schools without turning towards families for help to develop better policy and programming. EdConnect for over 15 years has advocated for equitable education policy. There is a continued cycle of well-intentioned policies with limited results for families that need it the most. Now, more than ever, we need our parents, grandparents and guardians to use their collective voices for positive impact in our local public schools. EdConnect is just one of many vehicles for it to be heard and used to shape change. With student mobility rates increasing while student achievement goes down in some of our most at-risk student communities, the time is now to advocate! If not, we are at-risk of failing our generations to come.
The solution to these challenge with connecting families is you! You can help EdConnect and similar organizations connect families with the right schools for them. I believe the work of EdConnect will help families improve their local school options by using their voices to communicate their needs. It’s advocates like Danielle and organizations like EdConnect who are doing high quality research and engaging in powerful parent advocacy across Atlanta and beyond. They implement family engagement best practices that grows parents voices and helps eliminate challenges families face with schools. Families Empowered of Houston is similar to EdConnect in Atlanta. They are a great example of family engagement for schools. There are great resources and ways to reach all families on their website. We must remember that in order to connect families, we have to be intentional about building relationships with them.