This article is part of our series: Voices of Engagement. In this series, we interview the people we are listening to and learning from as we continually evolve and improve our family engagement programs.
By April Hawkins, marketing manager, and Chaná Edmond-Verley, chief executive officer, Vibrant Futures and President of Innovation and Impact Collective (I2C)
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a virtual lunch hour with Chaná Edmond-Verley to discuss the power of family engagement. If you’re from the Michigan area, you know her as a true force in family engagement. She brings research-driven solutions that leverage human potential and achieve results. Her model for engagement has helped districts, community organizations, and early childhood programs build deep, lasting connections with families and real improvement in student outcomes.
Chief Executive Officer, Vibrant Futures & President of Innovation & Impact Collective (I2C)
As a former district administrator charged with leading large-scale community engagement initiatives for a school district, I was blown away by the level of engagement Chaná and her team were able to establish and maintain. I found myself wishing I had read her work years ago and had these insights. They would have made family engagement and reporting work much easier.
Getting Kids Back in School
Chaná shared an inspiring story about a successful family and community engagement project that can serve as an example for school districts everywhere. Chaná explains, “Schools in the neighborhood were achieving less than stellar academic outcomes.” Students were far from being on-track with academic readiness. On top of it all, there was a serious chronic absenteeism problem in the district. Parents were not showing up for parent-teacher conferences. Communication was at an all-time low.
It was clear that something needed to happen, and so the local school district decided to partner with Chaná and her team. Together, they took clear action with provable results. Here are the steps they followed:
1. Ask, “Do I Really Know What’s Going On?”
The first step was identifying the information that was needed from the community. What did parents know their children needed in order to be successful? What actions were parents and community members willing to take? What did community members and parents view as the critical issues? How could these issues be solved?
2. Shared Ownership for Increased Buy-In
A series of town-hall style meetings were set up. Chaná explains, “The community was engaged on their terms.” This was done by involving local community-based organizations that were already “institutions of trust.” These local organizations went out and shared flyers with people from the neighborhood. Social nodes spread the word.
The result was that this became the community’s meeting, and over five hundred attendees joined, proving that families care deeply about the future of their children.
“The community was engaged on their terms.”Chaná Edmond-Verley
3. Listen First
Participants started off in a large group, then moved into small facilitated groups. This offered an opportunity for facilitators to hear what community members think. And listen to their solutions. Everyone was invited to share the holes they saw in the plans that had been presented to them. There were 15 breakout groups. This allowed people to share their thoughts and ideas in a small group setting.
Taking the meeting from an auditorium-style meeting to a roundtable experience reinforced the message that every voice matters. This format also created more opportunities for rich feedback.
4. Keep Creating Space
Everyone was invited back three weeks later to form action groups. Each group worked on different threads and solutions. Examples included making sure kids are in school and improving student performance.
As Chaná shares, “The real impact came from parents and community members sharing what they experienced every day.” Using the insights and information they had as full-time residents of the community, they came up with solutions that were the best fit for their children.
“The real impact came from parents and community members sharing what they experienced every day”Chaná Edmond-Verley
5. Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Of course, one of the most important steps is to measure the outcome of your efforts. Chaná’s organization did this in a few ways:
- Measure student outcomes: The school district started to see improvements in the on-track readiness of children and families. Parents were engaged in summer learning, and there was real buy-in to school attendance. Chronic absenteeism decreased significantly.
- Conduct Surveys: Chaná’s team conducted surveys throughout the process. One of their discoveries from surveying at the beginning and end of the initiative was that the community’s belief that they could effect grew. In research speak, their collective efficacy was low when the process began. By the end, their collective efficacy significantly grew. Chaná shares, “They believed they could work in partnership with the school to change their situation in order to ensure a better future for themselves and their children. “
Through these meetings, the whole community became engaged and began keeping an eye out. Chaná shared the phenomenon that began happening in the neighborhood:
“From that point on, if an adult saw someone else’s child hanging out on the street during school hours, they would say, ‘Hey, what are you doing out of school? Aren’t you supposed to be learning? I’m going to call up your mom and see how we can help.'”
Of course, this had a huge impact because everyone in the community became partners in educating their community’s children.
Why is this helpful for school districts?
Authentically engaging families is one of the biggest challenges for school administrators. Putting a plan in place that sees the process through all the way to beginning to end is essential, and it takes commitment. So, I asked Chaná what she would say to a school or district hesitant to engage in this type of deep collaboration. Here is what Chaná had to say:
“Districts can’t possibly do it alone. It really does take a village, and it starts with the students’ family—the core village. Family and community engagement is the central vehicle for supporting purposeful action. This is the fundamental aim of family and community engagement that will ultimately produce student outcomes.
Within an asset-based framework, the school’s in-road is through cultivating and leveraging the aspirations, hopes, and dreams of families for their children. At the core of family and community engagement practice is a belief that every child has the potential to learn, grow and achieve, and that every family has the potential to contribute in profound ways. This is the basis for a different kind of relationship, communications modality and ultimately engagement with families where more children can flourish, thrive, and be successful.”
The Opportunity Created by Digital Solutions
With her extensive experience in family engagement, Chaná urges districts to consider non-traditional methods to reach families. She proposes digital family engagement as a solution that offers a great opportunity to bring families to the table on their terms:
“Many parents have children on different schedules. Some parents are trying to manage learning for a 4 year old, 6 year old, 8 year old, and 16 year old. In these cases, it becomes increasingly difficult for parents to engage on the school’s schedule.
Scalable digital platforms take that issue out of the equation. Parents uptake what they need from the school through a simple text. Programs like Ready4K allow schools to push low lift, at-home learning strategies to parents, share information about school and community events, and even survey parents all through text.”
Want additional tips on harnessing the power of family engagement? This post by Ready4K’s Director of Content, Rebecca Honig provides insight on building trusted relationships with families.