Engaged Families and Communities

Mansfield Brings Community and School Together

by Marian Kisch

The goal is to meet every single parent one-on-one. And the staff at Della Icenhower Intermediate School in Arlington, Texas, is doing everything it can to make that happen. As of mid November they had reached some 85% of parents and had plans for another push to complete the job.

This commitment to parent and community involvement is just one result of the Mansfield Independent School District’s work with the HOPE Foundation, which began some three years ago.

“We took to this initiative like a fish to water,” Assistant Principal Reggie Rhines says. “A lot of our views were aligned with what we were hearing from HOPE, but we knew we wanted to enhance what we were already doing.”

This growing (2,600 per year) district of 32,000 students, includes a wide spectrum of income levels and ethnicities, with speakers of 90 different languages. It has 21 elementary, six intermediate, six middle, and five high schools, including a career and tech school.

HOPE brought its Courageous Leadership Academy to Mansfield where it led four professional development sessions each year. Over the years, all of Mansfield’s schools have been trained by HOPE, with the majority of the staff involved.

To show off some of the accomplishments in the district this year, staff was invited to a gallery walk in the administration building where teachers and administrators featured their new programs and activities on posters. The idea was to share and inspire others to take similar steps.

Reaching out to the community, as noted above, is an integral part of the program and something that HOPE supports through its principle of gaining active engagement from the family and community. Icenhower employees knocked on parents’ doors before school even opened to introduce themselves, talk about the school and give out a school magnet. For those who weren’t reached then, the campus hosted picnics to reach additional parents. And there’s more to come.

“The message we send each time,” Principal Duane Thurston says, “is that we want to know you and build a relationship.”

The efforts have paid off, according to Rhines. “I’ve noticed that parental participation has increased significantly in all activities.” Attendance at last year’s end-of-the-year meeting for fourth grade parents doubled. And the open house for students and parents at the beginning of this year yielded over 1,000 people, many more than usual.

The ultimate payoff comes in the increase in trust, according to Rhines. “Parents trust us because they know us. They trust our decisions.”

Another successful strategy, according to Melissa Jackson, 6th grade math team leader, has been the peer-to-peer walks in which teachers visit other classes within their school to observe, learn and bring back new ideas to use in their classrooms. They also visit other schools within the district to help with vertical alignment and to see new technology advances, such as promethium boards, an interactive tool which Icenhower expects to receive later this year.

Stefanie Kahl, 5th grade science chair, likes the peer walks “because we get to know our schools better and see what students are learning in the earlier grades. This helps us collaborate better and ultimately will make all of us stronger.”

Robyn Rinearson, 5th grade language arts team leader, agrees. “Seeing what the elementary students are learning helps with accountability. We know what they experience in fourth grade so we can build on that when they come to our school.”

“Kids today are different than we were,” Kahl says. “There are many more needs in the community. We need to build on every aspect of the child — intellectual, social, life skills and the ability to love and enjoy school.”

It’s not just the adults who are reaching out to the community; Icenhower students are taking part, too. This year they will create pottery bowls which they will sell to raise money for food for the needy. They will also assist at area food banks in January. “These kind of experiences help students become stronger citizens,” Cahl says, “and to see that they can do something to help others.”

Fifth and sixth graders at Icenhower have shown improvement in their achievement scores, as shown on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Every group advanced from 2009 to 2010 on reading, math and science. The reading/ELA scores improved by two percent overall, from 86- to 88 percent; the biggest gain was with White students going from 89- to 93 percent.

Math scores went up three percent overall from 79- to 82 percent. Both African Americans and Hispanics raised their scores by five percent in this category. Science had the largest bump of 11 percent, from 69- to 80 percent. Hispanics made a giant leap of 24 percent, and African Americans 12 percent.

The economically disadvantaged group did well in all three categories, up five percent in reading, six percent in math and nine percent in science.

“Students have opportunities to be good citizens and lifelong learners,” Thurston says. “HOPE has helped us refine and define what we all should be doing both in and out of the schools.”

Posted with permission of The HOPE Foundation

Photo on homepage by Matt Romano Photo

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Keith G. Pemberton is a social worker at Oak Hill Elementary School in High Point, N.C., where he has built a strong and steady pipeline for parental involvement, specifically among fathers and male mentors. Check out his Classroom Superhero profile and leave some words of encouragement.

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