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Increasing Family Engagement: Change Starts with Us

Sep 27, 2017, 10:51 AM

During a cohort training, the above group gained an understanding of the Common Core Standards through instruction and discussion.

Just when I was beginning to doubt and wonder if I could really make a difference, I saw a quote on my Facebook feed, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – John F. Kennedy

We all need these little reminders from time to time. In a world where negative news inundates our lives—with failing schools and struggling kids flashing across the screen—we need to remind ourselves that we can still make a difference. This means we must believe in our children’s success by making every child’s potential a reality.

In Lexington, Ky. we have created a culture that believes all students can learn. We partner with parents, schools and community organizations and businesses to provide engagement training to increase advocacy to support our entire student population.

Research has consistently shown that students with engaged families perform better academically and socially.

Our family engagement team uses the Lexington’s Urban Family Engagement Network (UFEN) program, which was originally established by the National PTA in 2009. The goal of the program is to reach and engage traditionally underrepresented families and provide resources they can use to support their children’s education.

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In addition to gaining knowledge, some cohorts went on to complete projects, as seen below, that they then presented at our District-wide PTA Leadership training. This group presented on learning styles to a large group of interested attendees.

In 2013, the National PTA expanded the program to six additional urban cities and issued a grant to the 16th District PTA in Lexington. Over the past three years, we modified the program to meet the needs of our community.

Lexington’s UFEN program has graduated about 100 participants who have gone on to empower more families through their roles in their schools, advocacy project development and membership on School-Based Decision Making Councils. Recently, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, Department of Social Services, provided the 16th District PTA with essential funding to continue the UFEN training curriculum for the 2016 calendar year through an Opportunities Grant Initiative.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

This past fall, we worked with parents and staff at a local elementary school over a 4-week time period, we held an all-day training session at an area community college that was open to the public, and we provided advocacy and engagement training at Black Achievers’ Meetings through the local YMCA.

In our community, the Urban Network Family Engagement team provides training and services to all families and members in the Lexington community—representing 40,896 students—and works to educate parents on:

  • Their rights and responsibilities to be engaged with their child’s learning and well-being
  • How to navigate the educational system and advocate for their children
  • How to effectively partner with the school and/or community
  • Strategies for effective leadership

We provide services to help with the normal barriers to attending these engagement trainings, including free childcare, meals and transportation when needed.

Our team also plans to offer regular sessions on key topics such as:

  • Advocacy and training opportunities for non-English speakers
  • Exceptional child advocates
  • Gifted and talented students
  • Male engagement initiatives
  • Effective/inclusive leadership strategies

We believe our training efforts will result in a measurable increase in family engagement. It truly does take all kinds of partners and social levels to meet the needs of our students—not one organization will succeed on their own. We are excited to be part of the grassroots efforts working directly with individual parents and community partners.

Our team is committed being a part of the change and creating a culture that believes that all children can learn. We must help all children reach their full potential by helping to alleviate barriers to family engagement as a key piece of student success.


 

Kristin Heck Sajadi is the Urban Family Engagement Network team lead and community outreach chair at the 16th District PTA in Lexington, Ky.