Family-School Partnership Standard #4: Speaking Up for Every Child

by Heather Ippolito, Vice President Family Engagement Commission

October 2021 Family Engagement

The fourth PTA National Standard for Family-School Partnerships calls for empowering families to speak up and advocate for their child and other children to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.  

Families often need help in this area, as many don’t feel comfortable speaking up in school or district meetings. PTA and school administrators can do so much to help build confidence in our parents and caregivers. Here are a few ways you can help build capacity in this area:

Parents need to understand their rights and responsibilities. The California Department of Education oversees rights that are written into law as part of the California Education Code. Many families are unaware that they have the right to do things like review the curriculum their child is learning, observe their child in their classroom and participate in committees or councils at the school and district levels. School administrators and PTA units can help families understand these rights by doing annual information nights in multiple languages, including these rights in newsletters or on the website, and advertising opportunities for parent engagement in the committees and councils.

As issues arise on your campus, your PTA can host discussions for parents, students, teachers, staff, and administrators to come together and work toward solutions. Having all parties in a room together can spark creative solutions to issues and allow everyone to feel heard and involved.

Provide families with advocacy training. Advocacy is a scary term for many parents, but at the school level, advocacy can be as simple as asking your teacher for a resource your child needs or sharing a concern with the school principal. Show parents that all forms of advocacy small at the school site or larger efforts like speaking to legislators are welcomed and needed for our children to succeed. 

Families need to understand how the school system works. Who do they talk to if they have concerns about their child? When should they involve the principal? What offices at the district office are there to support student learning? California State PTA has the School Smarts Family Engagement Program that, over seven sessions, helps families at your school answer those questions and build capacity for greater advocacy and involvement. You can get more information about this program by emailing programsupport@capta.org 

You can download the comprehensive document PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships, or get started with this brief summary. You might also want to share our previous blog posts: 

Introduction to the National Standards

Standard 1- Welcoming All Families

Standard 2- Communicating Effectively

Standard 3- Supporting Student Success

Back to School Week September 13-17

by Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement

This coming week National PTA celebrates Back to School Week.  From September 13-17 they are hosting activities and encouraging school sites across the country to hold events to welcome students and their families back to campus.  Visit their website to see a wealth of resources for encouraging families to join your PTA and ideas for how to do PTA activities virtually or in a hybrid fashion.  Also be sure to follow their social media channels so that you won’t miss any of the fun ideas and activities they will be sharing all week long.

The California State PTA Family Engagement Commission has some back to school ideas for you to use now as well– regardless if your community started school this week or a month (or more!) ago — these are events we know work!  We’ve held them at our schools to help students and families feel connected as school resumes.

  • Boo Hoo/Yahoo Breakfast for Parents- The first day of school is hard on parents, especially for our TK or Kindergarten families.  They are having to leave their little one on campus for the first time and it can be a little stressful on both parent and child.  While the teachers are taking care of the kids in the classroom, our PTA hosts a coffee and continental breakfast for parents.  Our principal comes and introduces themself, families have an opportunity to meet other parents, and our PTA shares a little bit about our programming and the benefits of becoming a PTA member.  The event doesn’t last more than an hour on the first morning of school, but it was always a family favorite event. School already started? There is no reason not to hold this to celebrate the first week, month or quarter!
  • Ice Cream Social-  Prior to the start of the school year, we invited families to campus for an ice cream social.  We bought giant bags of popsicles and ice cream from either the cafeteria or a warehouse store, set up a table on the school playground, and allowed families, students and our PTA to mingle.  The kids loved the opportunity to see their friends and play, while the parents greatly appreciated the sense of community they began to form with other families at school. School already started? Everyone in your community will love ice cream on the second week, or the eighth just as much as the first day.  
  • Family Picnic- Our school held a family picnic on the Friday after the first week of school.  We encouraged families to bring blankets, chairs and their dinner to the school playground.  PTA had music playing, we invited an ice cream truck or a mobile shaved ice company to park near the school, and we sometimes put out games like the parachute or giant connect four for kids and families to play.  It was a wonderfully low-key way to chat with other families, for kids to show their parents the cool playground that they had been exploring all week long, and oftentimes our administration or some teachers dropped by. School already started? Picnics can happen anytime!
  • Have your Mascot welcome the kids to school on day 1- Most schools have some sort of costume that goes along with the school’s mascot.  Ask for a parent volunteer to wear it on the first day of school as the children arrive.  This is a great photo opportunity, it helps ease the anxiety of some children to be welcomed by a friendly face, and you can promote your PTA by asking them (or their assistant) to hold a “Join PTA” sign with a QR code that links them to your membership site.  School already started? Your Mascot can bring the party any day of the fall semester!

Note:  Try to have your back-to-school events be no-cost or low-cost.  You don’t want price to be a barrier to attendance at welcome back events– this is a chance for all families to feel welcome on your campus.  These give-back events are for relationship building and to help our children and families feel comfortable at school.  They shouldn’t be for fundraising.

If your school isn’t allowing on-campus events this fall many of these things can be held in a local park, community center, library, or other non-campus location.  Or modify your event to make it virtual: Coffee with the Principal (on Google Meet) or a drive through ice cream social with student made signs on the vehicles, or even a socially distant ice cream social!. This may mean a little extra planning on your part, but the returns in helping families and students feeling connected to one another and to your school will be worth the investment of your time.

Family-School Partnership Standard #3: Supporting Student Success

By Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement

As we continue our series about the  PTA National Family-School Partnership Standards  we want to remind you that we have several blog posts around this topic: 

The third standard of supporting student success encourages families and school staff to continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school, and to have regular opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills to do so effectively.  Here are some ideas of ways to bring this standard to life on your campus:

  • Help parents understand what their child needs to succeed in school by holding grade-level meetings to cover the state standards, assessments, and expectations at the beginning of the year.  
  • Testing data can be confusing to families.  Parents should be given resources to fully understand their child’s assessment reports and the school should also share full-school data with families.  This could be done at a coffee with the principal, a parent night event, or at a PTA/PTSA Meeting.
  • Parent conferences or goal-setting meetings are a great way for families and school personnel to connect, but these should be two-way conversations– not just an opportunity for the teacher to do all the talking.  Parents should be encouraged to share their hopes and goals for their child and to convey their families’ cultural experiences that may influence how their child learns. 
  • Families should be encouraged and welcome to participate in classroom and on-campus activities (when it is safe to do so).  The PTA can help facilitate this by making sure families are aware of the volunteer opportunities and any of the requirements necessary to participate (district training, fingerprinting, etc.).
  • Parents also need to understand how they can support learning at home.  Teachers can be a huge help with this by sharing ideas with families including visiting museums, seeing movies or concerts, or other opportunities for learning outside of the classroom walls.  The PTA can also support this by bringing educational experiences onto the campus to help ensure that every family can participate.
  • After-school or summer learning can also be beneficial to students.  PTA can help facilitate classes or other educational experiences to make learning fun for the kids and keep the learning happening outside of the traditional school day. 
  • California State PTA has an online Resource Library to help parents find resources to continue learning at home.  You can search by keyword, grade level, school subject, or type of resource (video, website, PDF, etc.). 

Do you have a great suggestion for supporting student success?  Please share it with us and you may be featured on our social media.

Standard #2: Communicating Effectively

by Heather Ippolito, VP Family Engagement

In July we introduced the PTA National Standards for Family School Partnerships and Standard 1- Welcoming All Families on this blog.  Today we are going to share some tips and best practices for Standard 2: 

Communicating Effectively

The school, district, the PTA, and families need to engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning and engagement opportunities.  This is one area that we hear complaints about regularly– parents feel like information is just pushed out to them– they are not being invited to participate in the conversation.  Parents want to be heard, to share their thoughts and opinions, and to feel included in what is happening at the school.  

Here are some tips for communicating more effectively with the families on your campus:

  • Use terms that your parents can understand– many families don’t understand educational jargon and abbreviations so try not to use them!
  • Get to know your families to discover how they like their communication– are they on specific social media platforms, do they prefer email, texts, phone calls, fliers, or a combination of things.  
  • Communication must be in a family’s home language.  There are lots of tools to help with this– from Google Translate for your website to using school staff as translators and interpreters.  Note:  Translators transpose writing into a different language and interpreters translate speaking into a different language. 
  • Family nights at the school site offer a chance for families, teachers, and administrators to interact and have meaningful conversations about curriculum and other issues that impact our children.  Use these events to build relationships so families feel able to turn to the school when they need help for their children.
  • Be consistent with your communication.  Post to your social media regularly and/or have a monthly newsletter.  Families like to know that they will be receiving information from the PTA and the school regularly.
  • Survey families to identify their issues and concerns, and plan with school officials for ways to respond to those.

If you see a great example of family engagement, we want to hear about it.  Take a moment to complete this simple form so that we can recognize units, councils, and districts that are doing amazing work in the area of family engagement!

PTA Knows Family Engagement! Learn more about the School Smarts Program

by School Smarts Committee

For nearly 125 years PTA has helped parents and caregivers make lasting connections to their school campus to benefit all children.  Over the last ten years our School Smarts family engagement program has helped over 10,000 parents understand the way the educational system works and how they can participate in it, make connections with staff and parents at their school sites, and shown them how to best support their child and their community.  

On August 24th from 10-11 a.m. our School Smarts Program Manager, Bianca De La Torre, will give a tour of the program for interested administrators, school districts and PTA leaders.  Come hear about how the program can increase family engagement on your campus and how this program can directly support student success. 

PTA Leaders – Invite your school principal to learn more about this amazing program and how families at your school can benefit from it. Join us on August 24th from 10-11 a.m.  Register here. 

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.

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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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