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Saturday, September 30, 2023

The EduVerse with ProfessorJBA: Changing the rules of engagement! 

Jason Allen
Jason Allen
Jason B. Allen is an educator and education reporter. He attended school in Atlanta, K-12, and is a graduate of the University of West Georgia and earned a B.A. in English and M.A. in special education.

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We can’t continue to reimagine what teaching and learning looks like in public schools without reassessing how we engage parents, families and communities within the process.

Research from the Annie Casey Foundation highlights information that most educators, school leaders and educational advocates already know. Family engagement is in fact a key component in the emotional, social, behavioral, mental and physical development of children. It helps with producing better academic outcomes for students.

Now knowing this, I’m encouraging parents and families to closely look at how much of the general funds/budget (not Title I or federal funds) are being used to support family programming, support and resources.

Let’s face a harsh reality. Most teachers and school leaders run away from or don’t prefer to teach at Title I schools because of the stigma that comes with people who are classified as poor or living in poverty.

Not only is data used to portray students at Title I schools as less than average, but it also loudly identifies the students’ families as being poor and less than average through the designation of “lower income”.

This is one of many reasons why we must change the rules of engagement by ensuring that every aspect of the school district and the budget are focused on diversity, equity and engagement.

School districts can’t improve how schools are being operated when they aren’t changing how they engage families.

If your school district has monthly school board meetings with community comments, I challenge you to do a study of how many of the parents are complaining about engagement. Comments centered around lack of resources, poor communication, not having qualified, prepared or equipped teachers and educators or updated infrastructure at the school.

For parents, these are major indicators that the school system isn’t truly invested in improving the outcomes of students or improving their educational and economic opportunities post-graduation.

Changing the rules of engagement allows for parents to be able to connect with school staff and administration directly for the best outcomes for students. Especially regarding discipline, behavior and removing students from the learning environment.

Advocacy is also giving parents and families the access to inform and improve systems of discipline used on their children within the school community, especially with zero tolerance policies seeing students suspended for minor things such as throwing paper or leaving class to go to the restroom in the case of an emergency.

When family engagement is at the core of a school and school districts focus, the numbers of students being suspended and removed from the school decreases. School districts should be equipped with the resources needed to support all different types of parents and families. Just like all students learn differently, they are all raised and reared in different households.

It still takes a village to raise a child!

Realistically, we know that modern families transcend beyond the traditional two parent, mother- and father-led household, which is why it’s important for school districts not to have cookie-cutter models of engagement when families and students need different things.

Data collected from the National Parents Union reflects that parents and families still have huge concerns with the level of engagement with their local school district.

Post pandemic, parents and families are seeking something different from their schools. They want to know is the physical infrastructure, i.e. food programs, access to fresh water what’s needed for their children. And yes, the parents working two to three jobs, who aren’t able to make it to scheduled conferences or school events and are labeled as unengaged parents are concerned about the well-being of their student(s) too.

This is why we rely on family engagement to help us ensure that the village helping to raise our youth is supported. Oftentimes, our early childcare centers, faith-based institutions and the business community aren’t connected to the standards, curriculum or ways to prepare students for a digital based workforce.

Most school districts have not created, required or implemented anything differently to address how to successfully continue academic lessons outside of the classroom or school. Parents and families have been saying that they want to see more preparation of students with soft skills and trade skills.

But when the rules of engagement aren’t changed, we don’t see the outcomes needed for students who are oftentimes labeled by school test data as underperforming. School districts publish and share academic data for graduation rates and test scores where median averages fall between 25 – 38% proficiency but don’t connect this to how students will adjust and adapt to college, career and workforce development.

Engagement impacts student outcomes!

Before we change the rules of engagement, we have to look at the false narratives created around the families and communities we serve. This means addressing the stigma placed on lower income families and communities, language, cultural and religious differences that all impact the way in which the students we teach are served.

What we communicate about our students, their families and the communities we serve determines how successful our engagement with them will be. Communication is a key factor to building relationships with our stakeholders, and we can’t depend solely on technology to do this for us. In order to communicate with families, we have to be intentional about meeting parents, guardians and families where they are.

Parents and families with children in any grade level should be engaged. Here are three (3) questions I encourage parents and families to ask their superintendent, school board members, principal and teachers:

  1. What does the school data say about your child?
  2. How is your district invested in family engagement in and out of the school?
  3. Do you have a 21st century parent/family center?

If your school doesn’t offer programming at various times, on the weekend doesn’t have childcare with programming offered, isn’t collaborating with retired educators, non-profits or other stakeholders in the community including local libraries, university system and community centers then your school isn’t invested in family engagement but simply checking off the boxes for involvement.

Changing the rules of engagement means putting the money in family engagement programming and services needed to help all students and families win.

Contact Indy Kids Winning reporter Jason B. Allen at jasona@indyrecorder.com. Follow him on Twitter ProfessorJBA.

Jason’s work is supported through a partnership between Indy Kids Winning and the Indianapolis Recorder. Visit indykidswinning.com to learn more. For more local news and coverage on schools, click here.

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