Virtual School Smarts Program Launch Meeting – Nov. 20

Join us via Zoom on Friday, November 20 from 3-4:00 p.m. to learn more about the award-winning School Smarts Parent Engagement Program’s transformation to a virtual environment.

For the past 10 years School Smarts has inspired more than 10,000 parents to more deeply engage in their child’s school experience.

The seven-session School Smarts program provides training and knowledge to help parents understand how they play an integral role in their student’s educational outcomes. Each session offers opportunities for participants to share their own experiences, ask questions, and consider how they can take a more active role in their child’s education.

School Smarts graduates are able to:

  • Explain why parent involvement matters so much
  • Identify ways to prepare their child for a successful high school experience to support college and career possibilities
  • Summarize ways to learn how their child is doing in school
  • Describe how to cultivate relationships with the school board, principal, teachers and staff
  • Share how to prepare for a successful parent-teacher conference
  • State different ways to practice leadership within a school community
  • And, much, much more!

This Zoom meeting offers the opportunity to check out the School Smarts program for yourself, and find out how to bring the program to the families in your school community.

Click here to register today:

School Smarts: ‘Everyone Belongs’ in Alameda USD

“I learned so much from the School Smarts program: I learned how the Alameda Unified School District school system works, how to get information when needed, how to invest in my child and school and how to prepare my child for college — I have all the answers I needed to know.”

Thang Do’s wonderful words are wonderfully typical of the family-engagement efforts in Alameda USD. As a recent graduate of an all-Vietnamese School Smarts Family Engagement Program, Do and other participants represent the diverse face of family engagement in the school district, and the entire state: While all may have different backgrounds, cultures and languages, all share the same passionate commitment to the success of their child, school and community.

That passion is shared by Alameda USD itself. Instead of a one-and-done, check-off-the-box effort at engaging diverse family members, the district has made diversity and inclusion hallmarks of its overall mission. The district was one of the very first to participate in – and understand the value of — the School Smarts Parent Engagement Program, and now the program, like the district’s commitment to diversity, is woven into the educational community’s overall culture of “Everyone Belongs Here.”

Alameda County has long been a diverse region, and today is no different: 44 percent of resident speak a language other than English at home, and 34 percent of residents are foreign-born. Instead of viewing such demographics as challenges, Alameda USD works to build bridges for all families to become involved in their children’s success.

“Our work is purposely built around stages of immigrant involvement,” said Claudia Medina, Alameda USD School Smarts coordinator. “We have made an intentional effort to reach out and include our immigrant and English-learner communities in ways that can empower their educational journey.”

Medina and Superintendent Sean McPhetridge helped spearhead School Smarts’ establishment in the district five years ago.

“I said, ‘I won’t be happy until I see School Smarts in all our elementary schools!’” said McPhetridge, who first saw the program when he was Alameda USD assistant superintendent. He noted that, five years in and now in 10 elementary schools, School Smarts has developed a new generation of diverse parents who, among other accomplishments, have helped the district realize its goal of greater parent input in Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) committees.

“School Smarts and other efforts have all helped support our work to protect and uplift all the students and families we serve in a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environments that are committed to the Alameda belief that ‘Everyone Belongs Here,’” he said.

“Our work has helped families to feel safe and included in our schools; knowledgeable and confident to show up in school; strong and informed to join leadership committees; and now, more recently, School Smarts graduates have joined our newly formed ALCANCE Latino Achievement Roundtable to improve the academic outcomes of our Latino students,” added Medina. “We are positioning ourselves to not only enrich, but also to impact the academic and social/emotional outcomes of our community.”

Noor Hezam is one of the Alameda USD School Smarts facilitators who helps make all parents and families feel welcome, not just in the School Smarts classes, but in the larger community. As a longtime educator originally from Yemen as well as a Ruby Bridges Elementary School English Language Development instructor and a community/faith volunteer, she helps Arabic-speaking families engage fully in their new country. From making School Smarts classes available in easy-to-access community centers for parents who can’t drive to creating a chatting app to connect her School Smarts parent-graduates, Hezam reflects the district’s above-and-beyond commitment to inclusion.

“Most of my School Smarts parents from two to three years ago were from Yemen, but now they are from Egypt, Tunisia and more!” she said. “Our parents thank me for telling them about our school system, especially about how we should already start preparing children for college. Our classes are joyful and exciting and we all cheer at the graduations. We are seeing more parents coming into the school and getting engaged – they now feel comfortable getting involved in field trips, greeting others on campus and more.

“All our work is about building relationships!” she summed up.

Another recent graduate – this time, of an all-Chinese class — summed up Alameda USD’s School Smarts inclusion efforts.

“Most of us are newcomers and non-English speakers,” said a participant named Wentao. “We understand that education is very important for every family and how it will help our dreams come true. As newcomers we need help to understand the educational plan from kindergarten to college in the United States. We have a duty to support our school and our communities to become better, safer and healthier. School Smarts gave us confidence in joining the residents of Alameda.”

Indeed, everyone belongs in Alameda USD – and School Smarts!

Alameda Parents are Getting Empowered

alamedausd_schoolsmarts_collageSix November graduations celebrate family engagement

Decades of research shows that family engagement in education promotes lifelong success for kids. California State PTA’s award-winning School Smarts Parent Engagement Program — offered in partnership with local school districts and PTAs — is helping Alameda parents learn about their schools and get involved.

Although the school year just started a few months ago, six November parent graduations already are taking place in Alameda County:

  • Ruby Bridges Elementary School
  • Frank Otis/Edison Elementary Schools
  • Paden/May Lin Elementary Schools
  • Henry Haight Elementary School
  • Amelia Earhart/Bay Farm Elementary Schools
  • Franklin/Donald D. Lum Elementary Schools.

During the 2016 – 2017 school year, School Smarts will operate in nearly 160 schools across nearly 30 school districts including Alameda Unified School District. More than 6,000 parents statewide have graduated from the program since its inception as a 2010 – 2011 pilot program. More than 2,300 parents are expected to graduate from the program this school year.

Congratulations to all Alameda Unified School District School Smarts parent-graduates, and be sure to share your School Smarts news with us at!

Alameda Unified School District Parent-Graduates Share Their School Smarts Experiences

لقد تعلمت في هذه الأكاديمية بعض الأشياء الأكثر اهميه والمطلوبة لتحقيق النجاح لأبنائي ومدارسهم. وقد تعلمت أيضا ان انتبه واهتم بكيفيه تعلم ابنائي وكيفيه تعليمهم في المنزل. وتعرف على النظام المدرسي ودور كل شخص فيه. وقابلت العديد من الأمهات وتعلمت عن فرص المشاركة في مدارس ابنائي.

“I’ve learned in this academy some of the most important things required to achieve success for my children and their schools. I have also learned to be aware and interested in how my children learn and how to teach them at home. I also learned about the school system and the role of each person in it, and I met many moms and learned about participating opportunities in my children’s schools.”

لذلك لا يسعنا في هذه اللحظة التي تعجز فيها الكلمات عن التعبير الا ان نقول لكم منا جزيل الشكر على ما قدمتموه لنا من خدمات و معلومات مما فيها من مصلحه وحقوق أولادنا في المدرسة ومع المدرسين. نشكر الأنسة كلوديا على مجهودها القيم وكلامها الجميل ونشكر مديره المدرسة الأنسة ولسن على كل ما تقوم به في مدرسه روبي بردجز ونشكر كل من ساهم في انشاء الاسمارت سكول.

استاذتنا الغالية نور لكي منا كل الثناء والتقدير بعدد قطرات المطر والوان الزهور على جهودك الثمينة والقيمة من اجل الرقي بمسيره سمارت سكول. الى من اعطر واجزلت بعطائها والى من سقت وروت سمارت سكول علما وثقافه. الى من أعطت من وقتها ونالت ثمار تعبها الى الاستاذه تور لكي منا كل الشكر والتقدير على ما قدمتيه لنا ولأولادنا.

“So we cannot afford in this moment, where words fail to express our gratitude, but only to say that you have our sincere appreciations for what you have given us from services and information, including the interest and the rights of our children in school and with teachers. We thank Miss Claudia on her valued efforts and beautiful words, and we thank the school principal Miss Wilson on everything she does in Ruby Bridges School and we thank all those who contributed to the creation of School Smarts.

“To our dear teacher Ms. Noor: to you all the praise and appreciation as many as the number of colors of flowers and the number or rain drops on your efforts and precious value for the progress of School Smarts — to the one that gave unconditional sincerity, and who nourished and watered School Smarts knowledge and enlightenment — who has given her time and harvested the fruits of her trouble, all our gratitude and appreciation for all you provided for us and for our children.”


“My name is Thang Do. First of all, I want to thank School Smarts and the facilitator Claudia, Marisol and the people who put this workshop together. I learned so much from the program. I learned how the AUSD school system works. I learned how to get information when needed. I learned ahead of time how to invest in my child and school and how to prepare my child to college. This is a therapy class for me. I had all the answers needed to know. I hope this class will continue next year. I appreciated all the hard work you did for the Vietnamese school. Last, I want to wish everyone at this event a good and healthy life!”


“My name is Wentao — my English name is Ina. The name comes from the word of China because it rhymes. Today, I am representing all of our Alameda Chinese School Smarts classmates to express our gratitude to our teacher, Mrs. Rachil, our AUSD School Smarts Coordinator – Mrs. Claudia, Mrs. Martha Zenk, Principal Dean from the Amelia Earhart Elementary School, and all of you who are supporting our Alameda School Smarts. Most of us are newcomers and non-English speakers. We understand that education is very important for every family and how it will help our dreams come true. As newcomers we need help to understand the educational plan from kindergarten to college in the United States. At this important moment, AUSD sent an angel, Mrs. Rachil , to us. She gave us information and taught us ways on how to help our children and our families become successful. We have taken six classes, during these classes; Mrs. Rachil really understood our struggles. She helped and encouraged us to adapt to a new environment. We appreciate all of our teachers from AUSD. They have encouraged us to speak in English and join our school’s PTA.

“The class taught us how to be good parents, how to be our children’s best friend, and how to communicate with schools and teachers. The class also taught us many ways to communicate with schools, teachers, and students. We learned where we can find information, which can help our children go to a good university and have a better life in the future. The class gave us confidence in joining the residents in Alameda, California. The class showed us what is good team work, because we set up an Alameda Mommy Smart group on WECHAT (a Chinese social network like Facebook). By using this social network, we are connecting with each other to learn kids’ activities, afterschool information, and so on. Our goal is to meet once a month with our children to have activities within this network. We will also encourage other newcomer Chinese families to join, so we can share our experience with them. We will act as their AUSD Chinese ambassadors.

“Right now, we wish that each school in Alameda would have a multilingual ELD consultant who knows the US educational system well, plus the ELD program, foreign cultures, and psychology. In doing this, our supporters can communicate with teachers, students, parents, families and schools to help Non-English speakers establish their new lives in the United States. We would say they are like the joints of our bodies connecting our families, schools, and communities together. We have a duty to support our school and our communities to become better, safer and healthier.

In the end, we want to say thank you again for Mrs. Rachil for her patience and for helping us see what we could be. We consider Mrs. Rachil the best teacher in Alameda! We will never forget you.”


School Smarts: ‘Empowerment for the Parents’

schoolsmarts_facilitatorsPara leer este en español, haga clic aqui.

Authentic, meaningful family engagement makes a difference for student success. Some of our amazing Southern California School Smarts Parent Engagement Program partners recently shared their thoughts on why family engagement matters and how School Smarts helps empower parents:

Diana Marmolejo-Reymundo: “We respect the place of the parent as the first teacher: We can learn so much from them in the educational community. When they give us the gift of their children, we are able to work together in partnership. The School Smarts program is instrumental in providing an opportunity for growth, learning and leadership, using art activities and communication to build a stronger community, school and education for parents and students together.”

Tiffany Perry: “I think it’s so powerful for parents to feel they have an avenue to build community, and to come and learn in a safe place to share their opinions and their voice. I love School Smarts and love seeing parents empowered!”

Trini Hernandez: “There are always statistics that show the importance of family engagement, but once you see School Smarts in action and realize what it does for parents and see what it does for children, it’s amazing. You see the children so proud of their parents and the parents beaming with pride – there are your statistics!”

Gina Gallo: “I was a schoolteacher for 32 years and we never had a program like School Smarts. I’m still onboard to help children, and now we have help and empowerment for the parents: School Smarts!”

Feel free to share your family-engagement thoughts and stories with us at

School Smarts: ‘A Lifetime of Knowledge’

wendysmithers_speech_SMALLWendy Smithers (at right in scarf) is a School Smarts Parent Engagement Program facilitator. She was honored to share her personal and professional experiences at a recent California Association of Bilingual Education convention.

How many of you are teachers? Paraprofessionals? Parents? Today I would like to share with you my experiences as a facilitator of the School Smarts Parent Engagement Program and its connection to the arts. A recent PTA newsletter clearly stated that family engagement is the number-one predictor of student success.

Family engagement has a big impact on improving student outcomes and building connections between the home and school. As a facilitator of School Smarts I can share with you the many success stories of parent involvement and student achievement.

Motivation and Inspiration

I have facilitated School Smarts several times in South San Francisco and Millbrae. Each time, my heart sings with motivation and inspiration from the parents. It’s about making the connections with the parents from school to home and back. Just like in your classroom, you see the children’s smiling faces, hands eagerly raised, I have experienced the same with parents. They nod, smile, talk amongst themselves. At the end of each session, they hug you and thank you for the new information learned. And they laugh! You know you are making a difference when you connect with them and they respond back so eagerly.

School Smarts has seven sessions and one wonderful graduation. Session One begins with sharing family values, and education is always one value that comes up as most important to the parents. Because it’s an important value, we talk about how to set up your home for homework and how important it is to turn off the screen time and video games Monday through Thursday. And because they value education, the parents try it and follow through.

The results are astonishing! By the second session, about 99 percent of the parents are onboard with turning off screen time and reorganizing homework time! Then I ask them to be sure to look in their child’s backpack every night. They think this is so funny – until the next week, when they share that they did look in the backpacks and they discovered incomplete homework and notes from the teacher and school. We now have empowered parents! They are onboard to make changes and connect to school.

schoolsmarts_hand_wendyAs a facilitator, I observe as parents discover and grow within each of the seven sessions. Communication skills become stronger. They begin to talk more with each other, ask questions – and they realize the teacher is available to talk with them. They realize the door to the classroom is open to them. They become motivated to communicate with the teachers. They share their experiences:

  • “Teacher, my son really loved his homework!” or
  • “Teacher, can you please help my child with the word problems?” or
  • “Teacher, I have set up a homework system at home!”

Instead of ignoring the problem, or not talking to the teacher, parents are confident to ask for help.

As you probably know, in many Latin countries, the parents never enter the school. They walk their child to school, but never enter. They hang out at the front of the school. You probably see this at your school. The parents hang out at the entrance, but are unaware they can go into the classroom. School Smarts builds their confidence to not only visit the classroom, but also to talk, question and share with the teacher. Now the seeds of the home-school connection have been planted and are growing.

I have always found it is important to really know your audience. Do they understand the Core standards? Can they navigate and interpret the new standards-based report card? Do they have good questions to ask at conference time? Do they understand the educational system in California? These are questions I ask myself as I prepare for each session. As a facilitator, I want to teach new concepts that the parents need to know and empower them with new knowledge.

Just like your students, parents work best in small groups where they can share and build communications skills. Having understood the Core standards, many parents now form well-though-out conference questions:

  • “In what areas is my child proficient or exemplary?”
  • “What can I do at home to increase his mastery of standards?”
  • Or sharing with the teacher the homework routines set up at home.

Parents are proud – and knowledgeable. It is exhilarating to see parents becoming empowered and participating in their child’s education. School Smarts gives them these skills.

The Power of Art

Art is also a critical component in School Smarts. It is with the art projects that they realize how important art is for their children. Art is a tool which allows all children to show what they know — to model high levels of comprehension in all subjects. You have seen the difference with your ESL students when they can illustrate the beginning, middle or end of a story. They can demonstrate their comprehension of stories read, the details, word meaning, sequencing, main idea with details, character description, cause/effect, dialogue: all through art, at any grade level. It is with art that all students can demonstrate what they know as they learn English. And art is a cross-cultural medium – there are no language barriers. When the students create projects at home, the whole family participates. We all benefit from the diversity and cultural impact shown in the art.

schoolsmarts_art_wendyIt is through the power of art that meaning and comprehension shine. Cultural ties are revealed through art. Family art projects form the home-school connection. At School Smarts, the parents participate in an art project almost every session. We celebrate the parents’ art by hanging it up in the school cafeteria or halls. Children delight and are proud of their parents’ art – they beam with pride:

  • “My mom and dad go to school!”
  • “My mom made this of me!”
  • “My dad volunteers in school!”

And because their parents attend School Smarts, the children find themselves improving more in class as well: improving in grades and subject matter. Education is valued. Children excel. Family engagement is a predictor of student success.

Community is built through art, and with it the development of stronger communication skills. I once asked a kindergarten parent how will she make sure her kindergarten student masters the Core standard of identifying geometric shapes. She thought about it and answered, “I will point out the shapes of street signs as we walk to school.” Brilliant! Talking to her child and observing the environment; making connections to school curriculum. She will take control and be sure her child masters this standard. She has knowledge of these core standards at each grade level and understands how the school and home work together to build success.

The Home Benefits, the School Benefits, the Community Benefits

wendy2Parents grow and find themselves, not just good communicators, but now they are leaders in the school community and advocates for education at their school sites. Parents are empowered to not just join PTA, but to attend meetings and participate! They join other committees and volunteer in school. As leaders, they understand how important it is to be involved in education. We tell them this from kindergarten through 12th grade! And it’s not IF you go to college – it’s WHEN YOU GO. Parents speak at school-board meetings. Parents also apply this new knowledge and find themselves advancing in their jobs or going back to school. Many parents have been inspired to get their GED or take courses in English – even going to college and graduating! New life goals are made and a future for them and their children moves forward.

At the end of the Seventh Session, we ask parents to make a goal that they can fulfill and hopefully demonstrates leadership and advocacy in the school community. Many parents join PTA! And they attend meetings! They begin to participate and find their voices. Other parents promise to read to their child every night. Families together: Friday pizza night with families in their pajamas and on the couch reading together with no TV!

They also set goals to always check their backpacks every day, too! What was so funny in the beginning has become a way of life! I love it. Setting goals gives them a reason to participate and become involved with their child’s education.

Many parents become inspired to share their career with the school. One graduate – a dentist – gave dental-hygiene education to each kindergarten through fifth grade class at one school. This was an incredible give-back to the community. The kids loved his big model of teeth that demonstrated how to properly brush their teeth! Other parents got fingerprint clearance and TB-tested to become legal volunteers at school. At one school, the PTA was losing its charter – the parents’ goal was to increase membership. They organized themselves to work in partners and signed up for different times of the school day to meet and talk with parents to join PTA. Membership increased to 75 parents! And the graduates of School Smarts were elected to the executive board! At another school recently renovated, parents worked with the art teacher and classrooms to construct tile murals for the new hallways! Gardens and raised beds appear as parents work with teachers and students to build stronger school community. As we say, “Si se puede – it can be done!”

Graduation is another emotional, momentous event. In some school graduations, mortarboards are purchased, parents walk down a red paper carpet to the stage with “Pomp and Circumstance” playing in the background. For many, this is their first graduation. Tears are in their eyes. Mine, too. The children sit silently, in awe of their parents. They too will graduate. Family pride – valuing education – building a future.

Because of School Smarts, parents are moving forward. Families are moving into the future with educational goals. Parents communicate well, demonstrate leadership and advocacy for all kids in education. Parents become leaders and families achieve. The rewards are a lifetime of skills and knowledge. They have started a change at home that will continue after their children are grown.

The home benefits, the school benefits, the community benefits – across all cultures and languages. School Smarts is a program which gives our parents and their children a future. It builds home-school connections through art, communication, leadership and advocacy. Thank you!

Do you have a family-engagement success story to share? Email

Family Engagement’s a Team Effort in Pomona Unified School District

Four years in, School Smarts is making a difference

schoolsmarts_groupphoto2A family-engagement movement is taking place in Los Angeles County, and parents like Maggie Uceda are proud to be a part of it.

As a volunteer at Pomona’s San Antonio Elementary School, Uceda already was familiar with the school community. But when she heard about California State PTA’s School Smarts Parent Engagement Program from her principal, it definitely got her attention.

“I first heard about School Smarts when the principal brought the program to San Antonio,” she said. “It was a new program, and we were the first ones in the district to try it. She asked me to participate in the class and bring my friends, so we took the very first School Smarts class. From there, it took off!”

With the School Smarts academy, Uceda enjoyed learning more about how to advocate for her children – as well as all children in her school community.

“Our grandparents always taught us values when we were young,” she said. “Now, as a mom, this is something that is important to me. I know that it is my turn to teach my children these values because School Smarts taught us that parents are the first teachers of our children.”

But learning about advocacy and engagement and becoming more involved as a parent wasn’t enough for Uceda: She was so inspired by her experience that she trained to become a School Smarts facilitator. In that new role, she finds personal reward in motivating other parents and family members to reach goals big and small, and to have a true voice in their children’s school and the surrounding community.

“For me, being a successful parent is being involved with my children’s school.”


Uceda is just one of the growing number of dedicated Pomona Unified School District School Smarts graduates. Since its beginning four years ago as one of the first School Smarts programs in the state, School Smarts has been embraced at all levels of the district to not just engage, but to empower families.

While the district had used an introductory parent-engagement program for some time, Diana Marmolejo-Reymundo felt something was missing. As district coordinator of pupil, community and employee relations, Marmolejo-Reymundo and others believed more in-depth, meaningful training and engagement was needed to support Pomona students and the diverse family community. The challenge was finding the tools for success.

“The programs we have used in the past were missing a key element – the next step!” she said. “School Smarts offered a solution by building the capacity of parents by empowering, training and supporting them to take the lead with a solid program and curriculum that focuses on how to help parents help their children.”

“It’s about being partners in education,” added PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez. “We wanted to create an atmosphere and environment supportive to schools and parents. It’s so much more than just helping out in the classroom.”

So when district and parent representatives heard about School Smarts, excitement followed.

Lynn Miyamoto was serving as First District PTA president when California State PTA launched School Smarts as its premier parent-engagement program. She had heard about the new program at a California State PTA meeting, where she and other participants learned that the search was on for the first academy locations. Miyamoto and other PTA volunteers like Pomona Council PTA President Steve Richmond brought the idea to the school district, which became interested and worked to incorporate the engagement program.

“We started to see that the district and community really embraced School Smarts,” said Miyamoto, who currently serves at California State PTA’s School Smarts chair. “Now we’re doing train-the-trainers and graduates like Maggie are becoming facilitators. We’ve seen it grow by leaps and bounds!”

Marmolejo-Reymundo noted the pure team-effort success of the program, which is supported by the board of education, superintendent, district staff, principals, teachers, school staff, PTA Council, First District PTA, school-site councils, parents, students and community members. She offered advice for other districts seeking to do the same.

“Build on success, reflect constantly, hear and value the voices of all including the critical ones, continue learning and, above all, remember that parents are valued partners,” she said. “Allow the strength of School Smarts to percolate and you will see how it will permeate into the hearts of others.”


Martinez attends School Smarts graduations and events, where he sees family engagement and empowerment in person.

“The kids who come to their parents’ graduations are so excited – you see it in their faces!” he said. “There’s a ripple effect: Our kids are learning something that they must accomplish because their parents did it, too. The effect on children and families is in the classroom and beyond.”

“I was blown away – we started to see that the district really embraced it,” said Miyamoto. “Before, the schools had been struggling, but now parents and families were engaged. That’s exactly what we hoped for.

“Welcome parents and empower them to be engaged with their schools and their kids: Pomona Unified School District and School Smarts are doing it!”


  • PUSD program start date: 2012
  • First PUSD School Smarts program: San Antonio Elementary School in Pomona
  • Current number of academies and programs: 15 academies at 9 schools
  • Current number of district facilitators: 7
  • Graduates to date: 340
  • Languages: School Smarts offered in all 6 available School Smarts curriculum languages in PUSD.

School Smarts Parent Engagement Program Brochure

The School Smarts Parent Engagement Program is a model for creating meaningful and diverse parent involvement. It brings parents from all backgrounds together in support of their common interest: helping their children and schools succeed.