Engaged Families and Communities

Unions Help Build Bridge Between Home and School

By Dana Fisher and Kevin Hart

Parents and caregivers are truly our students’ first teachers – and school districts across the country are finding that getting parents more involved in their local schools can have a significant, lasting effect on student achievement. The National Education Association and its affiliates have been leading the effort to enhance parent and community engagement at priority schools, with an eye toward closing achievement gaps and improving student outcomes.

In May, NEA affiliates in Nebraska and Wisconsin gathered parents, teachers, community members and elected leaders for day-long summits to discuss the importance of family engagement in education. A similar summit, sponsored by NEA and the Tennessee Education Association, was held in April.

The Nebraska event, held outside of Omaha, was hosted by the Nebraska State Education Association in partnership with NEA and 22 Nebraska organizations.

Research shows that engaging families and communities as partners with schools positively contributes to children’s academic success, according to summit keynoter Dr. Karen Mapp, Director of Education Policy and Management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

“We all have a major stake in student and school success,” said Jess Wolf, NSEA president. “Students are far more likely to stay in school if their families keep encouraging them and demonstrating interest in what they are doing and accomplishing in school.”

“I’ve never missed a parent-teacher conference for our son,” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman told summit attendees. “It sends a powerful message. So, I plan to attend parent-teacher conferences across the state this fall. Tell me when you plan to have them, and I will be there. If I can make time as governor to be there, then I’m hoping you can.”

The Wisconsin summit, held in Pewaukee, WI, drew more than 160 attendees and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, NEA, the Office of Governor Jim Doyle, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, in partnership with 24 additional Wisconsin organizations.

WEAC Pres. Mary Bell addresses conference attendees

“Wisconsin’s great schools are a result of a long history of strong family and community engagement,” said Mary Bell, WEAC president. “But with new challenges facing our state and increasing challenges facing our families and our schools, talking together about how we focus on our children and their success is even more important than ever.”

“This summit couldn’t have come at a better or more critical time,” said Gov. Doyle. “We have worked hard to meet the educational needs of our students. You can’t say to a second grader, ‘I’m sorry, come back in a couple of years and we’ll see what we can do.’”

During both summits, discussions focused on which policies, practices and actions are needed to increase the engagement of various types of families in supporting student learning. Groups discussed strategies for assessing levels of parental engagement, communicating with parents about opportunities to become involved at school, and training teachers, administrators and staff on how to effectively engage parents.

Parental and community engagement are key goals for NEA Priority Schools Campaign, a multi-year effort to bring permanent transformation and improvement to America’s lower-performing priority schools.

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PSC Superhero Keith G. Pemberton

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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