Family Engagement Tips
for Schools: Q&A with
Stand For Children
We’ve learned from working with school districts across the country during COVID-19 that it can be challenging to reach families and understand their needs. That’s why we spoke with Stand For Children – a nonprofit educational advocacy organization – to get their top family engagement tips for schools.
Stand for Children advocates for equal education standards for all children by utilizing a strong three-pillared approach: Parents, Politics, and Policy. We talked with Ashley Thomas and Georgina Monsalvo (Regional Organizing Directors ) and Jennifer Warner (Vice President Family Engagement, Organizing & Elections), to learn how COVID-19 has changed support strategies. They also shared best practices for family engagement and setting up outreach programs.
1 | How has your work changed post-COVID with parent and school engagement?
Ashley: We’ve gone back to the basics: communicating with families regularly. The first week that schools closed, I surveyed them about what they needed, what they thought they might need, and what they were most afraid of. We realized that food delivery was a major concern, and that parents didn’t know where to go for up to date health and safety information. Based on that feedback, we partnered with local food pantries to deliver boxes of food to families in need, and created a one-stop-shop website for families with COVID-19 resources.
We also learned that families had trouble supporting their students with educational technology. We set up a Home Learning Hotline that families could call to help their children log in to apps, or use their phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Grandparents especially appreciated this extra support!
2 | How can schools build a sustainable outreach program?
Georgina: It’s all about inviting parents to share their perspective, and repairing relationships if they are strained. For example, we’ve helped schools establish virtual coffee meetings with the principal, which created a more casual atmosphere where parents felt more comfortable to share.
Jennifer: It’s helpful for many schools to dedicate a person as a community outreach leader. They can dedicate time to talk with parents, and build a team of parent volunteers to expand their reach. It’s also important that this person is from the community, looks like them, and speaks their language. Even if it’s only part-time, this ensures that the parents’ perspectives are being taken into consideration at the school and district level.
No matter the size of the school, or their funding, we can start with the understanding that we all just want to be heard. From there, consider what channels are available to you to connect with parents. What makes sense in my community to allow them to be heard!
In the end, we want to create strong connections between the community and our schools because when schools do better, communities do better!
3 | How have you seen schools build trust with their families pre and post COVID?
Ashley: School districts that have done a really good job of communicating with families focus on two-way communication – not just mass outreach using robocalls or emails. Also, the schools that were intentional about connecting with 100% of their families got creative by using new tools that they hadn’t used before, like What’s App. They also brought in partners to help with communication and used documents to track which parents they connected within a universal document.
Georgina: Facebook Live has also been really helpful. It allows us to have an open dialogue about concerns and questions – especially about going back to school in the fall. Some school districts have also used Facebook advertisements to reach parents that haven’t liked the school page – just to be sure they have done everything they try to reach them.
No matter what, we encourage schools to find multiple platforms – don’t just rely on calls! When you get the chance to speak with families, be honest, meaningful and transparent.
Jennifer: Many schools may not realize it, but what they call parent engagement is actually just broadcasting information to parents to “check the box” that they have informed them. But real communication means finding the platform and reaching out time and time again until you have a two-way conversation with them. Even when you do reach them, it has to focus on checking in on overall needs, not just on getting the information you need. That is the key to building relationships and trust – and why we encourage our volunteers and organizers to start with a simple question: what do you need?
4 | What are some natural pathways that schools can adopt grassroots campaigning and organizing strategies?
Georgina: I would love it if schools built a parent group! Establishing a space for two-way communication is important. We need parents’ perspectives to design plans to go back to school or to support students outside of school.
There is ALWAYS a group of parents that want to share – you just have to talk to them first.
Jennifer: One thing schools can do to help repair relationships and establish communication is to consider The Home Visit Project. They provide training to teachers on how to conduct home visits because research shows that teachers’ whole perspectives change after one visit with students outside of the classroom. It helps them understand the family and home context, and also helps families understand the teacher better.
Learn more about Stand For Children and
how they help improve educational equity.
Ashley Thomas is a Regional Organizing Director at Stand For Children. She supports organizers in Indiana working with parent volunteers to run campaigns in their schools that address opportunity gaps that exist, causing equity issues in education due to race and income. She also works with local elected officials on policy to support improved educational outcomes for students by educating parents on the power they have to influence policy-makers and laws that impact education.
Georgina Monsalvo is a Regional Organizing Director at Stand For Children. She supports organizers who work in over twenty schools in Arizona to organize parent volunteers, and support improved policies for students. Her team most recently led an ELL implementation campaign after the successful passage of a law that will benefit English Language Learners for years to come.
Jennifer Warner is the VP of Family Engagement, Organizing, and Elections at the national level. She works to scale grassroots organizing advocacy efforts at the state and national level. She also develops training and professional development programs, so that community organizers develop the skills to lead at a state level.