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  Family and Community Involvement: Reaching Out to Diverse Populations
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Strategy 4: Bridging the Gap Between Families, Communities and Schools

Imagine visiting your neighborhood school and being greeted by a security guard and a metal detector. You walk through drab hallways to the main office. The secretary is preoccupied. All in all, the experience leaves you feeling unwelcome, a bother. It’s not the kind of school environment most of us would want to return to any time soon. Schools can be an intimidating place to visit—for parents and community members.

Contrast this scenario to a school that goes out of its way to welcome families and community. A big welcome sign greets visitors. The hallways are filled with colorful student work. School staff—from the security guard to the principal to the custodian—greet visitors with big smiles. School staff, who speak languages other than English, are available to translate. Visitors are immediately made comfortable. They feel appreciated and valued. They are part of the family.
These two descriptions demonstrate an important point: it’s up to school staff to help visitors feel welcome and at ease. The more families and community members feel welcomed in the school, the more likely they are to come back. Everyone in your school, including the security guard, is an ambassador for the school. Slowly, parents will take more ownership and pride in their child’s school and the role they play. What’s more, they deepen their understanding about the critical role they play in helping their children learn.

Successful schools create good reasons for parents to come back. Parents who lack formal education or speak a foreign language understand little about the public school system. They are less likely to reach out to their child’s school. Still others encounter other barriers. For example, in some cultures, teachers are viewed as authority figures and parents are less likely to ask teachers questions. These parents will rely on educators to explain their opinion which is valued and respected.

Schools can help build bridges by:

  • Alleviating language barriers by identifying staff who can serve as translators during parent-teacher meetings, school events, parent workshops, training sessions and home visits.

  • Hiring a community liaison who can promote cultural understanding among school staff and has strong ties to the community.

  • Assisting parents with little formal education by showing them how to work with their children in ways that do not require literacy such as asking their child questions about school assignments and school-related events.

  • Conducting interviews with families and community members about their beliefs about how children learn and what role families and schools play in children’s lives.

  • Inviting families to share their cultural traditions, crafts and knowledge with school staff.

Some schools have a designated room where parents can meet with teachers, check out resource materials such as books or videos, visit with other parents and conduct workshops tied to school issues or volunteer activities. A community bulletin board posts job listings, social services information, library hours or a schedule of upcoming community events. Some schools film parent workshops so parents who are unable to attend can later watch the session on video. Consider creating a parent and community room in your school.
Honoring and validating families and community members who support your school is critical to encouraging and sustaining meaningful involvement. It is not only an important way of thanking them, but these efforts create an atmosphere of recognition and inclusion.

Tips for Involving Parents and Community Members

  • Explain to parents what volunteer opportunities are available in your school.
  • Be specific about what help you need from parents and community members.
  • Invite parents to fill out a volunteer form when they register their child for school.
  • Find a reliable parent to serve as a volunteer coordinator who will develop a data base of information from completed forms, arrange for training and prepare a day-by-day schedule.
  • Provide a comfortable, friendly space for volunteers with tables, a coffee pot and supplies.
  • Show your appreciation by recognizing parent and community volunteers in person or at different school events.
  • Kick off a school meeting with a children’s performance or hold a raffle afterwards and give away door prizes, perhaps a free trip to the zoo or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

These tips are designed to reinforce the importance of parent and community involvement, help schools meet their goals for improving student achievement and build relationships among parents, community members and schools.

Adopted from It Starts on the Frontline (April, 2000)
National Public Schools Public Relations Association

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