Rethinking Family Engagement

  • What is the difference between a parent event and parent engagement?  What role do you think family members should play in the college-going process?  How can we create high schools that are more welcoming to parents?

    These were just some of the questions discussed at the Higher Education Compact’s Best Practices Forum: Rethinking Family Engagement on January 20th at the NewBridge Center for Arts and Technology.

    Family engagement often wanes as children age and parents become less likely to be asked by the school or student to participate in their child’s learning. This is problematic because family engagement is critical at all ages as it is positively linked to a student’s college aspirations, enrollment, and measures of academic preparedness. The stakes are especially high for families with limited means because low-income students apply to fewer schools than their high-income peers and are less likely to enroll and complete a postsecondary degree. Unfortunately, financial (i.e. needing to work multiple low-wage jobs), structural (i.e. being unable to attend school based events due to transportation challenges), and psychological barriers (i.e. having feelings of inadequacy due to one’s own lack of education) often prevent low-income and minority parents from participating in their child’s college planning process.  The Higher Education Compact’s Best Practices Forum sought to address these issues.

    The half-day session featured Tracy Hill, executive director of CMSD’s Family and Community Engagement Office, who shared some of the programming offered at CMSD aimed at increasing the involvement of parents at the high school level, including Parent University and College Bus Tours. Alongside Tracy were two parents of CMSD graduates, Krista Evans and Nakiaa Jennings, who shared their experiences as parents of high school students and what they did to keep their children motivated to pursue a college degree.

    Robbin Hudson, a consultant with the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, presented on the role of community in promoting family engagement. She recognized that time and capacity limitations are likely to squeeze efforts of college access professionals and school counselors. Robbin acknowledged that while it is imperative that school-based professionals take the time to build relationships with families, it also falls on the shoulders of the broader community – including the community partners present in the room – to engage with families around the topic of college.

    Following Robbin’s presentation, attendees split into small groups, each led by a community partner with expertise in the family engagement field. These leaders included:

    • Amy Btiebet, Director of Programming, Open Doors Academy
    • Connie Friedman, Co-Founder and Director, Link Education
    • Jane Harris, Director of Parent Engagement, Link Education
    • Deandre Henley, Coordinator, Family & Community Engagement at CMSD
    • Steven Lake, ‎School Quality Project Manager, Cleveland Transformation Alliance
    • Kay Spatafore, Associate Director of Curriculum, Open Doors Academy
    • Sharra Wimberly, Wrap-Around Coordinator, University Settlement

    Each group had a robust discussion about the purpose of family engagement, the benefits and challenges and the resources needed to increase family engagement.  The forum concluded with each group reporting out what they learned and their next steps!

  • Back to Blog main page