Family Engagement

Some teachers and parent leaders at Barrett Elementary approached me to ask my opinion about having the silent auction, raising some issues about it being an event that traditionally has not engaged all segments of the school community. Their concern is valid since the school prides itself for being an inclusive community. I want to share my reply and my perspective on this regard more broadly since others in the APS community might have a similar concern. I have dedicated my professional life to promote efforts to engage families in their kids schooling and have learned over the years a few valuable lessons. This is one of them:)

Family engagement is first and foremost about creating opportunities for families and helping them support their children’s learning, both at home and at school. The key here is about providing linkages to LEARNING, which research has demonstrated has a positive impact on student achievement. Barrett Elementary is a school that offers many programs that help do this, including K and pre-K workshops, Roving Readers, and several family nights, such as math, science and digital learning nights.  In all of these activities, the staff usually devotes a lot of thought and effort to make sure families from all socio-cultural backgrounds are able to participate and benefit. It is crucial for a school to do so in order to be truly and genuinely inclusive in its approach.

On the other hand,  there are a number of events that schools or PTAs put on for families that are not directly connected to student learning, In Barrett’s case, such events include, for example, Bingo Night, the Valentine Family Party and the Silent Auction. These activities have other very important goals, from building a sense of community to raising the funds needed to pay for activities and tools used for teaching and learning, such as smart boards, student tablets and classroom libraries.  What is critical here is making sure that there is a range and menu of activities for families– so parents with different interests, backgrounds, and preferences have opportunities to engage in their children’s schooling throughout the year.

Regarding the silent auction, the family engagement coordinator and the PTA President consulted with the Friday group of Latino mom volunteers and they explicitly told the PTA that they are supportive of the Silent Auction since they are aware that the event brings the most moneys and want Barrett to have those funds to support their kids learning at school.  At the same time, they let it know that this is a activity that does not appeal to most of them for a number of reasons– not being part of their cultural repertoire, feeling uncomfortable bidding and/or not having the economic means to do so, not wanting to go to a different location, being unable or not wanting to leave their children at home, etc.

In short, not everything that a school does–that is not directly related to LEARNING– has to fit all families. What is most important is that when you look at the l menu of these kind opportunities for families, you have some activities that attract different segments of the school community, as well as others that bring them all together.

It has taken me 20+ years doing this work to learn this simple but fundamental lesson:)

Thanks for reading

Rosa Briceno