Family Engagement: Supporting Your Child in School and in Life

Family Engagement Pic1Reid Temple A.M.E. Church (Reid Temple) in conjunction with ED’s White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (WHIEEAA) and the ED’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) found a way to get parents and children excited about going back to school. On August 28th, they hosted a Family Engagement Back-to-School Summit filled with information on how to support children in school and in life along with having fun at the church’s Silver Spring, Maryland location.


The focus of the summit was to reach out to families in the community and encourage greater family engagement in their children’s education. We had education representatives from kindergarten through college, including a school Principal and college President, and professional organizations. Most were members of Reid Temple A.M.E. Church congregation, demonstrating the resources available in one’s own community. Free books from the Maryland Book Bank were provided to the children who attended. The Maryland Book Bank, located in Baltimore, MD, is available to all Maryland residents and programs to pick up free books for children.

It was amazing to see the children attending the summit involved in the discussion. They talked about what was important to them when it came to their education. To hear them say they wanted love, support and patience from their teachers and parents was breathtaking. The parents were given the chance to talk about ways they are helping their children in and outside of school. The summit was a listening and learning session for all.

Family Engagement Pic3

Rev. Russell St. Bernard “Rev. Russ” of Reid Temple organized the summit with a goal in mind. “Our goal for the Family Engagement Summit is to empower students, parents, and administrators alike to make this school year the best one yet! By providing experts in the field, free resources, as well as encouraging dialog amongst peer-groups (adults and students), we expect for all those who attend the summit to leave with practical tools that they will be able to use immediately in the life of their student.”

Family Engagement Pic2Rev. Russell St. Bernard “Rev. Russ” and members of Reid Temple worked with David Johns, Director of the WHIEEAA, Frances Frost, Family Ambassador Fellow of the Campagna Center and Angel Rush of the CFBNP to create such a powerful and meaningful summit. We are looking to plan additional educational forums with Reid Temple and hopefully other churches in the area in order to reach families and communities that are less represented in school engagement.

By Angel Rush, Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Frances M. Frost, Family Ambassador Fellow, The Campagna Center









Innovative Learning in the Heart of Ohio

Photo of McVey Learning Center

The four networks listed right as students walk into the school.

“The ILC has provided students authentic learning opportunities by providing a space for exploring their interests and passions.  The real key to success has been the amount of responsibility and ownership students are taking over their learning, showing that students will push their own limits when given the challenge of freedom to choose.  Working with students to personalize their education prepares them to be Ready for Tomorrow.”–Brent Wise, Director of Innovation

Walking in the McVey Innovative Learning Center (ILC), nestled in the Hilliard City School District of Ohio, we encountered students working independently in various work spaces. Their teacher walked around the building checking in on students and answering their questions. We immediately sensed an energy and interest in each student as they worked!

The ILC is diversifying opportunities to meet students’ needs through four networks: College Jump Start, Imagination, Personal Success, and Young Professionals. These networks offer courses that allow all students from grades 7-12 to come together in a centralized location and share an experience that may not be possible in their home schools. The networks are created through commitment from school leadership, local organizations, and partnerships with institutions of higher education. Students from all three of the district’s high schools and middle schools are shuttled to and from the ILC every 90 minutes to participate in classes in one of the four networks. The networks include:

  • College Jump Start: The College Jump Start Network is a partnership between Hilliard City Schools and Columbus State Community College. Students receive 32 hours of college credit during their high school years and an estimated savings of $13,000. This particular network is designed for the student who wants to experience higher education during their high school career.
  • Imagination: This network is designed for the student who wants to creatively explore learning through the lens of the humanities and discover unique ways to engage their imagination. The individualized experience offered by this network features advanced levels of the arts, language, and other forms of expression. During our visit, we toured the recording studio offered through Capital University, a local institution of higher education, and saw a green room in the studio where students practice media development.
  • Personal Success: This network is geared toward the student who wants to experience school in a very personalized way. Students trade the traditional bricks and mortar classroom for an online experience, small group learning, or one-to-one learning sessions. Additionally, they benefit from a personal learning plan that’s created for them, no matter the goal. While we were there, Superintendent John Marschhausen spoke about how the district never expels a student without offering the opportunity for students to continue their coursework through this network.
  • Young Professionals: This network is designed for the student who wants to experience school through authentic learning experiences outside the classroom, all while becoming a young professional. Whether a student is active in a career mentorship role or teacher or entrepreneur academies, this network is built for them. The Young Professionals network has a partnership with the local career/technical school in the fields of medical, business, and teacher academies. Additionally, the school district has written open curriculum and textbooks for iPads, allowing for constant updates as the world changes.

For more information, visit the Hilliard City School website:

They All Have My Last Name

“These children have my last name. If there is something my daughters should have—all children should have it.”-Co-founder and Board President of the Hilltop Preschool

While on a visit to Columbus, Ohio, Center Director Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell stopped in the Hilltop Preschool, a non-profit organization located in Hilltop Lutheran Church that offers free preschool to residents of the Columbus west side area. It just happened to be picture day, and the children were dressing up in little graduation caps and gowns in anticipation of their upcoming graduation!

The preschool is funded through non-profit donations and thrives on several partnerships, including one with The Ohio State University (OSU) Speech-Language Clinic. This is a successful example of how institutions of higher education can effectively partner with local schools to create positive change.

Center Director Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell reads with young students.

Center Director Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell reads with young students.

All of the children attending the school come from families who are below 125% of the poverty level and face daunting realities:

  • 61% of the children have been identified with developmental delays;
  • 40% live with a parent with a known substance abuse problem;
  • 27% have a parent who has been incarcerated;
  • 20% are learning English as a second language.

In October of 2014, 67% of the children were assessed as falling “below average” on the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ GET READY TO READ! screening tool. Something had to be done to address such stark realities.

Staff at the Hilltop Preschool began to communicate with the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic at the Ohio State University to develop a unique partnership aimed at raising students’ literacy-based skills in the classroom through workshops with students, teachers, and staff. For the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, this collaboration presented an opportunity for staff to go into the community and set the bar high as the first clinic to be on-site leading a pre-K early literacy intervention program. For the Hilltop Preschool students, the new partnership paved the way for them to participate in lessons specifically designed to strengthen their early foundations in language and literacy by building skills in four key areas: vocabulary, narrative, phonological awareness, and print knowledge. Lesson plans for the intervention sessions had students gathered in reading groups and focused on topics ranging from the blending of sounds and rhyming, to comprehension, sequencing, and vocabulary. As a result of this initiative, OSU affiliates tripled student contact hours.

At the conclusion of the 11-week intervention program, the preschoolers were assessed to determine if their earlier literacy scores had changed. 89% of the students demonstrated higher literacy scores and 67% achieved “average” or “above average” on the GET READY TO READ! screening tool! Not only did the students see positive differences, but the teachers also learned modeling techniques for literacy concepts and the parents benefited by gaining skills to support their young readers through family events, take-home sheets, and parent-teacher conferences. Invigorated by this success and the community need, OSU continues this partnership today and the Speech-Language-Hearing-Clinic is now building a library at the school to continue to advance literacy skills.

Further background information and source: 

Fowler Head Start: Beneficiaries of the Pre-School Development Grant and a Place where Parents Can Dream Too!

Parents speak about their future dreams and plans, and showcase these aspirations in artistic portfolios

Parents speak about their future dreams and plans, and showcase these aspirations in artistic portfolios

My dream is to speak English.  I also want to finish school, and this photo shows how I plan to look and dress in the job I want to have.  My hopes are to one-day gain a job as secretary or in an administrative position.-Fowler Head Start Parent  (Translated into English)

Can you imagine a school where parents are encouraged to dream – something that we, as adults, seldom do now that we have grown up?  The Fowler Head Start Program inspires such action as it intentionally facilitates opportunities for parents to envision and express artistically a world where all of their hopes and dreams come true.

At Fowler Head Start, the principal and his staff have discovered that investing in the lives of a child’s parent/caregiver drastically improves the student’s educational possibilities.  As a part of the Fowler family, not only do parents feel more inclined to participate in activities hosted by the school, but they also contribute to the planning and organizing of the events.  This comes directly as a result of the school’s constant care for and engagement of the whole family.

In recognition to its commitment to its students and families, Fowler is a beneficiary of the U.S. Department of Education/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Pre-School Development Grant – a grant created to “support State and local efforts to build, develop, and expand High-Quality Preschool Programs so that more children from low- and moderate-income families enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and in life.” Fowler understands that in order for a child to have the chance to succeed in life, the school must also invest in the whole family’s needs.

During a visit to Phoenix, U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Staff (CFBNP) were privileged to observe how the incorporation of family into the classroom space greatly contributes to a student’s learning.  Three, four, and five year-olds graced CFBNP staff with a student performance entitled, “Trip to Shanghai.”  Students danced, sang, and told tales of Ancient Eastern folklore. The artwork, planning, and preparation for the event were guided by both the teachers and the families of the students.

Welcome to Shanghai!  Decorations created by parents and teachers for the students’ performance

Welcome to Shanghai! Decorations created by parents and teachers for the students’ performance.

Fowler staff expressed how the relationship between teachers, the principal, and the families helped spark the academic interests and imagination of its students.  The creativity was evident when Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell was led on a tour and discovered beautiful artwork (including a fabulous portrait of herself crafted by a three-year-old!) created by students, including pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Fowler has gathered data to show that students who attend high quality early learning programs such as Fowler, excel in reading and math at a higher rate than their counterparts of the same age who do/did not attend Head Start.[1]

The staff and teachers at Fowler have earned the trust of the families they serve.  This trust stimulates a parental desire to become more involved in their children’s academic pursuits and helps children stay excited about learning.

[1] FESD #45 AIMS Reading: % Passing Comparison – Performance of Head Start vs. Non-Head Start Students

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Wow! A 95.5% Graduation Rate!

CFBNP Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Principal Cabrero, and Arizona Department of Education Staff celebrate the achievements of Franklin Police and Fire, including being named as U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School

CFBNP Director, Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Principal Cabrero, and Arizona Department of Education Staff celebrate the achievements of Franklin Police and Fire, including being named as U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School.

Wow, a 95.5% graduation rate at Franklin Police and Fire High School! Congratulations! The opportunities available to students demonstrate why Franklin Police and Fire in Phoenix, AZ was honored as a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education.  For the school, excellence in education is possible for all of its students through the care and collaboration of its community partners, families, and school members dedicated to ensuring their students’ success. In the present moment where community ties are stressed and distrust may continue to grow between citizens and those who have sworn to protect and serve them, Franklin Police and Fire is committed to changing such a paradigm and engaging in promising practices that continue to drive student achievement.

In four years as Principal at Franklin Police and Fire High School, Lorenzo Cabrera and his staff have accomplished amazing feats in this area. On a recent Together for Tomorrow site visit to the school, U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Staff saw up close the benefits of how the school and its partners from the police force and fire department are working together to raise student achievement.

Students work with local fire and police departments where they learn skills such as CPR, First Aid, and team building. The students’ physical and emotional resilience are tested as they endure rigorous training and are confronted with difficult scenarios that firefighters and policemen often encounter daily. These scenarios are also reviewed in the classroom, where students have the opportunity to analyze and discuss how to maintain proper procedure while under duress. Moreover, students’ ethical insights and implicit biases are often challenged as they critically engage current controversies and events that have received national attention involving police forces across the U.S. Above all else, students are taught the value of integrity in their relationships with these partners and education within the school.  Because integrity is so important to the school, students are the required to recite its definition daily – “doing what is right even when no one is looking.”

In addition to its partnerships with the fire and police departments, Franklin Police and Fire High School promotes high student achievement though academic rigor, small class sizes, and heavy emphasis on college access. Students can receive college credit, earn various certifications, and even secure summer internships and employment, such as wildlife job opportunities offered through the Bureau of Land Management.

The partnership between Arizona State University’s (ASU) America Dream Academy (ADA) and Franklin Police and Fire helps families improve the educational outcomes of their youth. In ADA, the parents/caregivers of “at-risk” K-12 students partake in a nine-week program to “gain the knowledge and skills necessary to improve the educational development of their children, including methods to improve parent/child relationships; how to reduce dropout rates; and ensure high school graduation.” Such an initiative allows families to “take charge of their children’s education” as it helps to “build stronger families and communities.“

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Eddie Martin is Special Assistant in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.