Editorial: Help us help you: involving parents in children’s success
By Jeff Edmondson and Kevin Crawford
Children spend only 20 percent of their time in school, but are learning new things 100 percent of the time.
And while it takes a community to raise (and educate) a child, “Parents are a child’s first teacher” is a common saying for a reason. While many parents embrace this role, they must also worry about providing a stable home, food on the table, nutrition, health care, daycare, transportation, a safe environment, exercise and much more.
So how do we, as a community, help busy parents further engage in their child’s education? Through the City Heights Partnership for Children, anchored by United Way, collective impact is giving parents more options to get involved. Using the Collective Impact framework, the Partnership for Children’s 80-plus community organizations identify the hurdles children face and use best practices to help them overcome those barriers. The goal is then to share and adapt these best practices across the San Diego region.
In October, educators, elected officials, community leaders, business executives, nonprofit professionals and policymakers from 26 states and Washington, D.C., gathered in San Diego to discuss education outcomes for kids at the annual national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening.
StriveTogether works with communities nationwide to help build civic infrastructure that unites stakeholders around common goals, measurements and results in education, supporting the success of every child from cradle to career. The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network includes more than 50 community partnerships throughout the country, including the City Heights Partnership for Children.
During the conference, many partnerships shared what they’ve learned through their work. Notably, the Partnership for Children shared how it expanded the number of parents engaged in their children’s education, schools and communities through these lessons:
Community conversations: Community members hold a strong belief that schools can’t do it alone and offer unique insight into what is and is not working in their schools and neighborhoods. Gathering this data is as important as attendance records and test scores in determining priorities and strategies. They also encourage everyone to play a role in achieving collective outcomes.
Intentional communications: StriveTogether recommends that working with parents should be as intentional and careful as engaging CEOs and superintendents. Collective impact efforts will not succeed without parents on board, and leaders need to be sincere in inviting parents to help create and execute solutions.
Regular interactive meetings: More than 70 parents, principals, teachers and community members gather each month from the 12 elementary and middle schools that feed into Hoover High School in San Diego. Topics include combating chronic absenteeism, increasing parent and community member involvement and building on afterschool programs. The meetings include translated materials and simultaneous live audio translations in Spanish and Vietnamese via headphones, as well as on-site daycare and dinner, so parents feel welcome and are able to attend and participate.
Trusted parent leaders: It’s important to have respected parents in the community communicate directly with other parents and explain the goals of the Partnership for Children and its strategies in a relevant way. In multiple local efforts, we are lucky to have parent “promotoras” (promoters).
Focus on data: Data-driven decision making engages the community (including parents and students) throughout the process via community conversations, regular meetings and more — as well as hard data from the schools — to ensure that the community takes ownership of the results and continuously makes improvements.
Tangible tools and instruction: Parents need low-cost teaching tools that are time-efficient and fun for their children. In the summer of 2013, promotoras worked with local literacy experts to create a Literacy Toolkit for families to help soon-to-be kindergartners with reading and writing, recognizing letter names and sounds, and learning colors and shapes. The kits included crayons, scissors, flashcards and books. Promotoras delivered the toolkits through training workshops for parents. During the first year, 214 families at four schools received the toolkit. This summer, the Literacy Toolkit helped more than 900 families in nine elementary schools.
Community-Specific Ideas: Regular attendance is the foundation for student success. Students with poor attendance are often disconnected from school, have lower grades and engage in risky behaviors.
Parents at Edison Elementary in San Diego got bold. They stood at the school entrance with signs written in multiple languages asking: “Do you need help getting your child to school every day?” They helped struggling parents by linking them to a peer support network and referring them to the school administration for additional resources. Parents also stood outside as greeters, giving students something to look forward to every day. Edison Elementary parents are now sharing their methods with other schools.
Together, we can inspire our communities to get bold — bold in bringing together stakeholders united in common goals. Bold in their collective impact work. And bold in helping every child, every step of the way, cradle to career.
—Jeff Edmondson is the managing director of the StriveTogether and its Cradle to Career Network that connects more than 8,000 organizations through more than 50 partnerships – impacting more than 5.5 million students nationwide. Kevin Crawford is the president and CEO of United Way of San Diego County, the anchor organization for the City Heights Partnership for Children. United Way tackles issues that impact children and families.