Standard #1: Welcoming all families into the school community

By Heather Ippolito, VP for Family Engagement

Earlier this month we introduced the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships on the blog. You can view that article by clicking here.  Today we are going to dig a little deeper into the first standard:  

Welcoming All Families Into the School Community

As your local unit begins to think about your back to school events consider these five tips for being as inclusive as possible in welcoming ALL families:

  1. On forms and paperwork remember to be inclusive in your language.  Instead of asking for names of “moms and dads” you can ask for names of parents, caregivers, or guardians.  Asking parents for their preferred pronouns is also a great idea!
  2. Create a “Welcome Packet” for new families.  Include coupons for local businesses, maps of the community, a copy of the school newsletter, how to find the school and PTA on social media, and a list of ways parents can get involved at your school including but not limited to:  
    • School Site Council (SSC), 
    • English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC), 
    • Parent Teacher Association (PTA), 
    • Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and other school or district committees.  
  3. Don’t forget to include a way to join your PTA!   Every time a new family enrolls the school office staff can give them the welcome packet.
  4. PTA volunteers call new families to personally invite them to the back-to-school events, offering to help them find transportation if they need it.
  5. Survey families (in their home language if possible) to see what kinds of programs they are interested in and what kinds of support they need from the school.

We want to hear from you!  What activities have you done to welcome families?  Share them with us and we might feature them here on the blog or on our social media channels– simply fill out this quick form and let us know what you’ve done to welcome schools to your campus.

Interview with Danni Kim, National PTA Family Engagement Whole Child Fellow

Earlier this month National PTA announced the names of four Family Engagement Fellows from across the United States. California State PTA is proud to announce that Danni Kim from Franklin Magnet PTA in First District was selected for this prestigious program.

Our Vice President for Family Engagement, Heather Ippolito, sat down with Danni and asked her about the importance of family engagement, her favorite programs to connect families to campus, and for a sneak peek into what the Fellows will be doing. She described several amazing programs implemented at her school site this past year including “Culture of Kindness” and a virtual art assembly that focused on diversity.

Click below to watch the interview:

Additional resources:

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Family Engagement in the News

As we gear up to head back to school, our commission has been noticing a trend in the news — there has been a great deal of talk about Family Engagement! This is exciting for all of our PTA units, as this continues to show that the work you do every day to connect families to your campus is significant,  important, and valued. Here are three recent articles that might spark some discussions at your next executive board meeting or in discussions with your principal. 

Family Engagement in the News

USA Today delved into the huge rise in family engagement that came out of necessity during the pandemic, as parents and caregivers were helping their students every day participate in their online, distance learning. They share some of the best practices that came out of the pandemic, and some challenges as we return to school. The article goes on to say that parents and families shouldn’t just be told how to help their children succeed, they should be included in the discussion and treated as a valued member of the academic team.  

New Budget Brings Lots of One-Time Funding

Governor Newsom’s budget is one of the brightest spots in the news when it comes to educational funding. This budget increases funding for mental health needs that our students (and families) have experienced due to the pandemic. It creates Transitional Kindergarten for all 4 year-olds connecting children and families to schools sooner than ever before. There is also a great deal of focus on professional development for teachers- which could include time to devote to better practices for engaging and connecting with families. EdSource has a fairly comprehensive summary of the budget and what it means to the schools in California. 

To Share with our Administrators  

Tips for Communicating with Families – A school district in Florida has turned to social media and video clips to help families feel more connected to what their students are learning and how their children are using technology. Check out the article and an accompanying YouTube video for some great ideas including tech tips for families and tech tours. A great nugget from the interview: “Be where the families are- – find the best communications tools to reach them — a website alone is not enough for our diverse families.”

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Introduction to the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships

National PTA is focused on transformative family engagement which is defined as “a shared effort of families, schools, and community leaders to advance programs, practices, and policies that empower every parent to make their child’s potential a reality.” To that end, the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships will help your school evaluate where you are in your family engagement journey and give you ideas to be more inclusive in your practices.

There are six parts to the blueprint:

  1. Welcoming all families into the school community 
  2. Communicating effectively 
  3. Supporting student success 
  4. Speaking up for every child
  5. Sharing power 
  6. Collaborating with community

Throughout the year we will be sharing with you some examples and best practices in each of these areas, but we would also love to hear from you!  What are you doing to engage families in your school, council, or district PTA? Share your great ideas by completing this form or email familyengagement@capta.org

To learn more about National PTA’s Transformative Family Engagement work, visit the Center for Family Engagement and watch this video:  

Next steps: 

  • Download the complete Guide and begin to read through it or start with the briefer summary document as an introduction.
  • Select one area of focus for your PTA to discuss at your next meeting.  Brainstorm ideas and make a plan to put one of those ideas into action at the following meeting.
  • Show the Guide to your school principal and give it to your School Site Council President.

If you missed last week’s Family Engagement Friday blog post, you can check it out here.

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What is Family Engagement?

By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement

In PTA we often talk about family engagement, but what does it really mean and why is it so very important?  

Family engagement with schools has many definitions:  

  • The US Department of Health and Human Services: Family engagement is the process used to build genuine relationships with families. Relationships with families support overall family well-being and children’s healthy development. When families are engaged, partnerships are created that have a common focus– helping children grow and thrive.
  • In 2010 the National Family, School and Community Engagement Working Group (now the NAFSCE Policy Council) defined family engagement like this: “Family engagement is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and in which families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development.”
  • National PTA defines transformative family engagement as a shared effort of families, schools and community leaders to advance programs, practices, and policies that empower every parent to make their child’s potential a reality.

Research shows family engagement is a major factor in student success, with an encouraging home environment serving as a bigger factor in student achievement than a parent’s income, education level or cultural background. It also tells us that family engagement:

  • Promotes healthy development and wellness in children
  • Increases graduation rates for those students whose families are involved on campus
  • Decreases dropout rates and behavior issues in students whose families participate on campus
  • Increases a child’s academic and social skills

What does this all boil down to for our  PTA unit, council and district leaders? Family engagement is something you do daily. Your programs and events help bring families to your campus and better understand educational issues that impact their children. When you help create and foster relationships between families, the school and the greater community, the students at your school thrive.  

Our goal as the California State PTA Family Engagement Commission is to give you concrete ideas to make this task easier. Every Friday on the blog we will share family engagement tips, best practices, and resources that will help you as you plan activities on your campus. We are so excited to work alongside you this term! 

Next steps:

  • This year at your first executive board meeting set three family engagement goals. Some examples of family engagement goals are:
  • Increase involvement of fathers, grandfathers, and other male family members in PTA and school events
  • Increase parent and family participation in the Local Control Accountability Plan and Local Control Funding Formula meetings
  • Take at least three actions this year to make your existing programs more accessible for families of children with special needs. For example, open up your Fall Harvest Festival 30 minutes early for these families so they can enjoy the activities with smaller crowds and less sensory stimulation.

Share with us your goals and you might be recognized in our social media (or win a prize). Email them to familyengagement@capta.org 

  • We also want to hear about your best family engagement activities. Complete this simple form and your school may be featured here on the blog, in our social media or on our website. 

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College and Career Readiness Summer Activity

Helping our students think about college and career readiness is a great thing to do during the summer months. The Family Engagement Commission has found a really fun resource for students in grades 5-12 to use this summer AND they could win a $1,000 scholarship!

Take a few moments to learn more about this program and check out all the resources that Families in Schools has on this important topic: https://www.familiesinschools.org/passport-to-success-college-and-career-edition/

         

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Family Engagement in a Virtual World

This year was different – and Family Engagement was different, too.

Families are struggling with physical and fiscal health. There were so many uncertainties about this school year – and even next year! Our usual routines have been changed dramatically. We have new insights about health and safety at our school sites and how our schools struggle to serve all students. As we struggle to make our own voices heard, we are even more aware of families who are left out of these conversations. 

Families still want to feel connected to school staff and to each other. And teachers and school staff need these connections even more than ever.

How do we keep everyone connected when we can’t meet in person? The same way we did before: by communicating clearly and frequently, by hosting a variety of social and learning activities, and by building authentic relationships. 

Technology removes and creates barriers 

Virtual meetings throughout the state now generate a lot more participation. Parent groups have seen their online meetings filled with new faces and families. Working parents with scheduling challenges have been able to sign in (and keep their cameras off if they are eating dinner.) Participants can also keep their cameras and microphones off during principal chats and meetings until they are comfortable participating. Interpreters can be provided easily through a different audio channel, like FreeConferenceCall.net.

As we know, not all families have access to devices and the Internet, which creates barriers to both instruction and family engagement. Most school districts do not have enough funding to meet all their needs and are now scrambling.

Access isn’t enough. According to Alejandro Gac-Artigas, the Founder and CEO of  Springboard Collaborative, “While distributing WiFi-enabled devices is laudable, academic disparities aren’t widening because privileged kids have access to superior screen time. They’re widening because of all the things their parents are doing off screen.”

“Over the last decade, college-educated parents have quadrupled their investment of time and money in their children, while parents without a college degree have only modestly increased their investment. Experts describe this as a “parenting gap” that leads to a vicious cycle of intergenerational wealth inequality. What matters most in a child’s life is their family. “

Real and appropriate family engagement can help address those disparities.   This means, for example,  supporting community members who may not have an adult at home to help with online learning during school hours or who may not speak English or who may not be literate. Parents, community volunteers and local support agencies have worked with teachers and staff to ask what people need. 

You can offer to be a “reading buddy,” to pick up school supplies, to help new families learn about your school. Check with your school site staff to see how you can help. 

We can still connect with fun activities and events!

Even when we can’t meet in parent rooms or in the yard, our favorite social events can still happen online— accessed by phone or computer. By hosting social events with the same technology used in the classrooms, parents also become more familiar with the technology and can support their students and each other.

Free family arts nights, for example, organized by PTAs and nonprofits like PS Arts in Central and Southern California, are a great way to engage your community. By continuing to offer wildly popular family arts programs virtually using materials found at home or sent in a special kit, arts nights can continue to connect and engage multi-generational families which may have become socially isolated from each other.   

Francis Scott Key Elementary in San Francisco has hosted virtual dance parties, yoga classes, and more!

The National PTA provides more family engagement ideas for a virtual world.

New opportunities to build community and engage families. 

Our families need more connection – not less.

This is a great time to try new events and projects to connect your school community. Introducing your pets (or stuffed animals) on your school communications platform, teaching meditation and mental health strategies online, organizing a donation drive for workspace furniture, recruiting senior and student pen/email pals and reading buddies – all engage families by meeting their needs when creating participation opportunities. Be sure to schedule events at a variety of times on different days so people with different work schedules can participate.

For example, when Alvarado Elementary School in San Francisco recruited parent volunteers to provide tech support to families struggling with distance learning, they both engaged families by providing an opportunity for parents to support each other and helped overcome a specific barrier to parent engagement.

Share your virtual community-building ideas and activities at a Meetup on Saturday, May 15 at 4pm

Next steps:

  1. Find creative ways to make your usual family engagement programs socially distant or remote;
  2. Make sure every family in your school knows where to find information and will receive communications in the way that is best for them; and
  3. Celebrate the creativity and connection of your community!

 

About Kari Gray: A San Francisco resident, public school parent, arts advocate and community engagement specialist, Kari Gray currently works as the Special Projects Manager at ODC/Dance and serves on the Boards of Youth Arts Exchange, the Second District of the California State PTA, and on the Family Engagement Commission and Art Committee for the California State PTA.

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Addressing Microaggressions to Make PTAs More Welcoming

We all want all families to feel welcome at our schools.

An active middle school PTSA was committed to including all voices in their PTSA planning. They worked with their school’s Spanish-bilingual and Chinese-bilingual family liaisons to engage the English-language learner communities at their school and to provide interpretation at their meetings. At every meeting, the Spanish-speaking and Cantonese-speaking families had interpretation and a familiar face to welcome them to the meetings. Before the meeting started, they felt included and welcome to their PTSA.

Yet, when it was time to discuss the budget and upcoming events, the PTSA Board described the events that they had planned and didn’t ask for feedback from all members at the meeting. The Spanish-speaking parents were confused. They had come with their ideas for community events and were excited to share their ideas, but, when they suggested new events or programs, the PTSA Officers asserted that they had already decided what the community events would be.

Do you think that the Spanish-speaking families returned to the next meeting?

“Welcoming All Families” is the first standard of Family Engagement in the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Our PTAs provide Welcome Back to School events, mentor families and many other terrific programs, strategies, and initiatives that are described in the National Standards Assessment Guide. We can make our schools even more welcoming by watching for micro-aggressions in your PTA meetings and activities.

Microaggressions are indirect, subtle or unintentional instances of discrimination against members of a marginalized group. Although they are thought of as small actions, microaggressions can have a tremendous impact. In a short PTA video, you can learn how to recognize microaggressions, respond to them and repair relationships in situations where we’ve committed them.

Continue your learning and reflection on micro-aggressions with these questions and resources.

For self-reflection:

  • Are you more often an observer, perpetrator or victim of microaggressions? What does it feel like for you in each of these roles?
  • Which of your identities (i.e., race, immigration status, language, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, household status, etc.) tend to have more “power” and could lead you to unintentionally commit a microaggression? What would it look like in those instances?
  • How does intent and impact show up in how you respond to microaggressions?
  • What has worked and has not worked when you have responded to a microaggression?

For your PTA to discuss:

  • Where have you seen microaggressions play out in your PTA? In your school community?
  • Who is affected by these microaggressions? What is the impact for these people?
  • How can you recognize, respond and repair microaggressions when they occur within your PTA?

Come to the Family Engagement Meet-up during Convention 2021 on May 14 at 4:00 p.m. to reflect on how you and your PTA may become more aware of and address microaggressions at your school.

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Family Engagement: It’s the Law

As PTA members, we know how important family engagement is for student and school success. 

Did you know that family engagement is not just good practice? In California it’s the law! 

The California Department of Education’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) gives local school districts a lot of substantial power to make local decisions that affect their communities. Every local education authority (school district) in California has to submit a plan for how it will use the LCFF funding. 

Learn more about the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the state’s required Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) here.

Part of your district’s LCAP includes a description of how the district engages families in decision-making and planning. In 2018, California PTA worked with other state Family Engagement partners to pass AB 2828, which requires school districts and charter schools to describe their family engagement strategies and outcomes in specific ways in their annual Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAP).

What does this look like in your school district?

  • Does your district make every effort to seek parent input in making decisions for your school district and your school site? 
  • How does your district plan to increase participation for students with exceptional needs?
  • What is working and not working for your district?

Learn more about measuring and reporting family engagement at “Family Engagement: It’s the Law,” a Convention 2021 presentation, live Q&A and meet-up on May 12.

Next steps:

  1. Use the National PTA checklist to measure family engagement at your own school site;
  2. Check out the National Standards for family school partnerships to get ideas; 
  3. Attend your school site or district Local Control and Accountability Plan planning meetings;
  4. Find out if your district is using the California State Self-Reflection tool; and
  5. Ask your school and your district how they will engage all families in your community.

 

About Kari Gray: A San Francisco resident, public school parent, arts advocate and community engagement specialist, Kari Gray currently works as the Special Projects Manager at ODC/Dance and serves on the Boards of Youth Arts Exchange, the Second District of the California State PTA, and on the Family Engagement Commission and Art Committee for the California State PTA.

To return to the blog homepage, click here.

Staying Connected with PTA Families in a Virtual World

How do we keep everyone connected when we can’t meet in person? The same way we did before: by communicating clearly and frequently, by hosting a variety of social and learning activities, and by building authentic relationships.

Clear and frequent communication

Every year, PTA works with school staff to establish communication processes and tools. This year, with all the changes and updates, it is even more important to reach every single person in our communities.

We need to ask:

  • How are people coping?
  • What do they need?
  • What is the best way to connect?

Effective family engagement includes all families and caregivers. To reach all families, it is vital to share information in a variety of ways: PTA and school district websites and newsletters, email, text, social media posts, and even with paper flyers and newsletters sent by mail.

Recognizing the need for a whole new way to create engagement and community, the PTA in San Francisco started “4-1-1 Wednesday” virtual gatherings for all San Francisco families. They could join by phone or computer. Topics centered on how to support families and parent groups: fundraising brainstorming, mental health and wellness strategies, and tips on creating an inclusive community. 4-1-1 Wednesdays also feature Town Halls with the District Superintendent and Department of Public Health.

These citywide meetings give parents and caregivers the opportunity to learn from each other and strengthen the entire school district community.

Share your own strategies for communicating with your community during Convention 2021 at our Family Engagement Meet-up on Tuesday, May 11 at 4:00 p.m.

About Kari Gray: A San Francisco resident, public school parent, arts advocate and community engagement specialist, Kari Gray currently works as the Special Projects Manager at ODC/Dance and serves on the Boards of Youth Arts Exchange, the Second District of the California State PTA, and on the Family Engagement Commission and Art Committee for the California State PTA.

To return to the blog homepage, click here.