Las Vegas Parents Get Fired Up for Education

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Keynote speaker Helen Littlejohn told parents they are critical to the success of their students

Like many around the country, parents in Nevada’s Clark County School District are hungry for information about how they can support their children’s education.  At a recent event hosted by the school district and its community partners, Las Vegas-area moms and dads had the chance to learn new information and find practical answers to their questions in a supportive atmosphere. “Family Enrichment Day provides an opportunity for families to connect to learning and to foster school-to-home relationships,” said Eva Melendrez, the District’s Parent Services Coordinator. “The event makes learning fun, through interactive workshops and activities for the entire family,” she added.

The Clark County School District focuses on increasing parent participation in a number of ways, with community partnerships and Parent Centers and Family Resource Centers on several campuses. Staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, the centers focus on communities experiencing high dropout rates. They also have a district-wide Parent Engagement Forum that provides valuable two-way information and feedback concerning social and academic issues.

For the first time, the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators was a co-sponsor of the event. “It was a great experience for us to start getting more African American parents and families to participate,” said Tracey Lewis, local chapter president. “We are looking forward to continuing this collaboration with the district and expanding our efforts,” she said. “This is about getting important information to families in clear, understandable ways,” she added, “so they can prepare their students for college.”

Over 400 parents representing 53 schools joined students at the Clark County family engagement fair.  Staff from the U.S. Department of Education were on hand with a clear message: parents are critical partners in the educational success of their children. “We must teach our children to be critical, creative thinkers, problem solvers who will invent the next great things, who will fearlessly attack the challenges of our time and those of the future,” said keynoter Helen Littlejohn, the Department’s communications director for the western states. Littlejohn led a chant of “¡Tú tienes la fuerza!” – “You have the power!” – and shared stories of parents in communities of color supporting education.

Participants were entertained as well as informed. The day was packed with academically enriching activities in math, science and literacy, in addition to a “Let’s Go to College!” session offered by the state-funded campaign Go to College Nevada.  Parents also learned some effective ways to engage with teachers, in order to better support their students.

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Clark County parents filled the breakout session rooms to learn about ways to support their children.

The event was held on a college campus, to “demystify” the college environment and allow participants to grow comfortable navigating the grounds.   For students and parents alike, the day at UNLV underscored the importance of great teaching and learning, and fostered the desire to finish high school and pursue higher education.  Participating parents gave the day high marks, and highlighted what they’d learned, from the importance of reading with their children, to a new found confidence that the students in their family could earn a college degree.

While Nevada moves forward in developing evaluations that will hold teachers and administrators accountable for family engagement, officials are working to design additional opportunities for district-wide parent engagement, as well as supporting schools as they create school-family engagement plans. As Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky says, “Together, we can ensure the success of every student in every classroom – without exceptions, and without excuses!”

Department of Education Staff

A New Family Engagement Partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, announces the new partnership at the NCFL national conference

“Read to your child.”

“Help them with their homework.”

“Make sure they get a good night sleep.”

“And what else?…”

A parent is a child’s first and most important teacher, but our approaches to family engagement often fall short of recognizing the full potential of partnerships between schools and families. The challenges we face in education require that we go beyond these basic messages on family engagement – moving from communication to collaboration among schools and families.

This is why the U.S. Department of Education is working to develop better frameworks for family engagement, and why teacher-family collaboration is a component of RESPECT , our blueprint for elevating and transforming the teaching profession. We are also renewing our Together for Tomorrow initiative with an expanded emphasis on family partnerships to propel school improvement and produce better outcomes for students.

In support of these efforts, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) to advance family engagement in education across the country.  NCFL brings to this work more than 20 years of experience providing tools and resources for educators and parents to create lifelong learning opportunities for the entire family.

Through the partnership, the Department and NCFL will jointly develop and implement strategies to raise the awareness and understanding of effective family and community engagement in education.  This will emphasize how teachers and families can better collaborate to improve student engagement and learning. We will work together to:

  • Convene community discussions on family engagement with educators, families and community leaders across the country.
  • Identify and compile promising practices and program examples for effective family engagement in education, so schools can employ leading practices that work.
  • Gather feedback on family engagement frameworks from educators, parents, advocates, and others in the education community.
  • Develop and disseminate resource materials to support family and community engagement in education. An example includes NCFL’s Wonderopolis, an online learning community that engages classrooms and families in the wonder of discovery.

We are eager to move this essential work forward, beginning with Together for Tomorrow community conversations in locations across the country.  These will spotlight promising practices and examples of school-family partnerships, and gather feedback to shape the Department’s family engagement efforts.

We also want to hear how your family-school partnerships are boosting student engagement and academic achievement.  Please email us your promising practices and program examples to edpartners@ed.gov

Michael Robbins is senior advisor for nonprofit partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education

Family Engagement: Four Great Ways to Get Involved

To ensure our nation’s students reach their full potential, parents must be fully engaged participants in their children’s education. Last week, ED held a family engagement forum that featured Michelle Kibbles a parent involvement coordinator who led effective family engagement efforts in the diverse Beaumont, Texas Independent School District. The forum also included Hillsborough County, Florida PTA President Melissa Erikson, as well as North Carolina PTA Parent Involvement Initiative administrators Debra Horton, Kim Shaffer, and Ashley Perkinson. These PTA leaders have fostered unprecedented growth in family involvement at both the local and state levels. Below are just a few of their successful strategies for parents and guardians.

  1. Build meaningful and collaborative relationships with teachers and principals.
  2. Many school districts hold special events to foster these relationships. If your child is having a problem in school, having a solid rapport with your child’s teacher may make it easier to work together on a solution.

  3. Be a part of your child’s support system by extending his or her classroom experience to your home.
  4. Ask teachers about your child’s course of study, the teacher’s expectations, and the school’s academic standards. By doing so, you will be prepared to help your child with his or her homework and ensure that your assistance supplements what your child learned at school.

  5. Talk to or join your local PTA.
  6. These organizations serve as a conduit between parents and teachers and have district-specific initiatives to improve communication. For example, the North Carolina PTA organized a home visit program in which PTA members organized and mediated meetings in parents’ homes that included parents, teachers, and students. Becoming active in your local PTA may help ensure your interests are represented at the district or state level.

  7. Become a leader in your community.
  8. Many school districts or PTAs offer leadership programs designed to prepare parents to be effective advocates for the community’s children. These programs also provide valuable resources for parents who foster communication between teachers, other parents, and public officials.

The next briefing in the family engagement series will be on September 29 at ED headquarters.  The panel will be composed of a grandparent, a parent of a child with special health care needs, and a parent of an armed service member.

Ben Firke and Sam Barnett are interns in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education

Supporting Teachers Through Family Engagement

Ed. Note: Mandy Grisham is an urban music educator from Memphis Tennessee, and a mother of two boys, ages five and two. She was a recent delegate to Parenting Magazine’s second annual meeting of the Mom Congress. Here she shares her impressions from a recent town hall on education reform and offers her own suggestions for how parents can support their child’s education.

Last week I had the opportunity to join, via satellite, some of the country’s leading education reform advocates in an education reform National Town Hall Meeting, held in Washington, D.C. The town hall participants included Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, House Committee on Education and Workforce Ranking Member George Miller (D-Calif.), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada.

After hearing about many different reform efforts, it’s obvious that government at all levels can have a significant impact over what happens in a child’s life during school hours. But what goes on in the child’s life after school is often out of the hands of our elected officials.

Most of us can agree that the people who influence a child during these post-school hours are an important factor that cannot be left out of the reform movement equation.  So what can we do as parents to support teachers, and improve the quality of education our children receive?

1. Engage with your child, first and foremost. Family engagement begins at home. Whatever your family looks like, take time to play and talk with your child. Ask questions like “what was your favorite part of the day?” Or, “Tell me something interesting that happened today?” If this is the most you can do, then stop right here and do it well!

2. Engage with your child’s friends and their families. “It takes a village to raise a child.” So find out what other parents are learning from their children.

3. Engage with your child’s teachers. Most teachers are eager to partner with you to help make the most of those hours your child is at school. The more they hear from you, the more they know you really care.

4. Engage with your child’s school. Look for ways to serve the PTA or Leadership Council. Ask what skills you have that may serve them.

5. Engage with the system. Get to know your school board members and learn about the budget. Districts will be spending the most money on the matters most important to them. If you don’t agree with the choices, get involved.

6. Engage the government. It only takes a few squeaky wheels to get a politician’s attention and make a difference. Make yourself available to be a “parent on the field.” When they need feedback from their constituents, be available to offer your opinion.

- Mandy Grisham

If you missed the reform town hall, you can still watch it by clicking here.

Secretary Duncan on Family Engagement

Great family engagement programs will never be developed in Washington said Secretary Duncan, who answered a couple Facebook questions this week in the video below. Arne’s statement comes in response to a question regarding the importance of family engagement programs in helping students be successful.  He notes that ED is seeking to double funding for family engagement programs, with a focus on the programs that work at the local level.

Arne also responds to a comment he received from a teacher who had found the importance of 4-H in a student’s life.

Don’t hesitate to join the conversation in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.