Deepening Connections to Boost Student Learning
Principal Cathy Van Ness has her finger on the pulse of parents. Using online social networking sites, her staff at Austin Middle School in Galveston, Texas, interact daily with parents and family members to answer questions, provide information, and address concerns. Parents are connecting as well, using the sites to share advice and form bonds.
Van Ness, who heads a Blue Ribbon and Nationally Distinguished Title I school, knows the necessity and rewards of actively engaging parents in schools and student learning. "We wouldn't understand the needs of our kids, of our families, of our community if we did not have two-way communication," she says.
With help from SEDL, Van Ness is sharing her innovative strategies with other Texas schools as a member of the Title I Statewide Parent Focus Group (SPFG). Formed by our Texas Comprehensive Center at the request of the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the group is promoting what works and aligning statewide efforts and resources to strengthen family and community engagement in schools. Members include TEA, education service centers, community groups, parents, and Title I principals such as Van Ness. This mix enables members to learn from one another, collaborate, and then share with peers to serve as catalysts for action.
"The information and the resources available from the state never quite seem to make it down to the parent level," says SPFG member Maria Ethetton, a parent liaison and bilingual educator at Stults Road Elementary in Richardson, Texas. "We need to funnel it all the way down to the parents. And then back up. . . . I actually now have the knowledge and the resources through SPFG to distribute and to share."
By raising awareness and promoting best practices and resources, the Title I Statewide Parent Focus Group is spreading the message that all parents and community members are essential to and can play a role in student success.
"Family and community engagement can help every child reach his or her potential, and educating everyone takes everyone—educators, parents and families, the entire community," says Marion Baldwin, a SEDL program associate working with the group.