Much research has been conducted on the benefits of effective family engagement. Yet many factors play into what constitutes “engagement.” This is critical, especially as it applies to working with underrepresented families—families that are not usually seen in the classroom or at school functions. Many of these parents may not be familiar with the concept of “family engagement.” They struggle to understand their role as parent advocates in their child’s education. Many times these parents are perceived as uninvolved or unconcerned about their child’s education. However, in my numerous years of working with diverse and underrepresented families, I know this is not the case.
This awareness issue was the main discussion point at an event I recently attend. It was an open house at an international student center located within a large urban school district. The center conducts intake and registration for international students born outside the United States who are new to the school district. One the center’s goals is that students are able to function at optimal levels via the services that the center provides.
During the open house, high school students mingled with staff and visitors. These students were scheduled to perform. They laid out a dozen PVC pipes, each 10 feet in length, to form a grid on the floor. The students, wearing ethnic clothing, turned on the music and performed a dance native to their country. With pleasure and amazement, the audience watched the students dance in unison, stepping in and out of each square as they circled the grid, changing partners, turning and circling the other way. The girls giggled and the boys remained stoic all the while enjoying the attention from the audience.
Throughout the entire performance, parents looked on with a universal look of pride, as if to say, “That’s my kid!” I could not understand their comments as they spoke a language I did not understand, but the message was clear, “I am here because I love my child.” These parents were witnessing the result of their hard work. The beautiful, intricate, symbolic dance, full of was their reward for the countless hours spent taking their children to practice as a tribute to their native land.
That day, I witnessed the true meaning of family engagement. The experience reinforced my belief that family engagement is reflected in a multitude of ways. Parents are “engaged” when they provide structure, when they make sure that the child is in bed at a reasonable hour, when they provide a healthy breakfast, when the children are clean and dressed appropriately and come to school every day.
Parents at the international student center open house might not be familiar with the research or the concept of family engagement, but based on the dedication and spirit of their children to their native dance and heritage, I believe that these parents reflect the true meaning of family engagement.