Equitable education is family engagement at its best!
By: Chaka Cummings and Brooke Gill
“High-quality, equitable and inclusive education is the shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities. Powerful partnerships are achieved, when active champions for education honor and recognize the connection between families and schools, as a core strategy for improving student academic achievement.” – Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools
Closing academic achievement gaps in Kentucky will require a variety of strategies and a need to address multiple constituencies. Engaging in this work means remembering that families are partners in supporting the holistic growth of students.
The responsibility can’t be on a school, alone. As the ancient African proverb states: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
This is highlighted in the recommendations that are made in Excellence with Equity: It’s Everybody’s Business. These recommendations include:
- Own the challenge of ensuring each child has a nurturing environment in the early years – working together across families, schools, businesses, health care, churches, and community organizations to recognize and support children birth through five years during the fastest growth of early brain development,
- Engage families as full collaborators in their children’s learning, drawing on family understanding of each student’s strengths and offering effective opportunities for families to tap into available supports and resources, including welcoming families’ advocates, and,
- Facilitate environments of trust within their communities to encourage courageous conversations about race, poverty, and learning differences.
How can you work to grow family engagement within schools in your community?
- Ask school leaders about their strategies related to engaging families. Push on school leaders to implement strategies that are more focused on relationship building than event attendance or newsletter readers. Consider asking things like, “how does this help build the relationships between staff and families?” This helps schools move Beyond the Bake Sale.
- Encourage schools to always include a link to learning during family events and conversations. Families should walk-away with a new resource or strategy that will help them support their child’s education journey.
- Celebrate effective engagement by schools, sharing your appreciation with teachers and school leaders.
- When you see an opportunity to improve an aspect of the school step-up. Families and school staff should take advantage of existing opportunities and work to support growth of school engagement as a partner. We cannot always expect building or district leaders to form teams and action plans. Improving our schools is everyone’s responsibility and we each need to feel empowered to step-up and be the change we want to see.
According to Joining Together to Create a Bold Vision for Next Generation Family Engagement Engaging Families to Transform Education, research conducted by the Global Family Resource Project and funded by the Carnegie Foundation, economically advantaged students have a 6,000-hour learning advantage over economically disadvantaged students.
Family engagement is an incredible tool to utilize in bringing schools and families together, in partnership, to outline effective strategies to overcome this deficit and to create safe, nurturing learning environments for students.
The Prichard Committee’s Ky Collaborative for Families and Schools has created The Family Friendly Schools Learning Network. The purpose of the Network is to improve family and school partnerships in Kentucky schools by building the capacity of school leadership to understand and implement more effective family engagement best practices.
How can schools close the achievement gaps and accelerate learning for students after the past two years of learning through COVID? As Jay Brewer, Superintendent of Dayton Independent Schools put it, “To grow students, we have to know students and no one knows our students better than their families.” It will be difficult work, but the Bluegrass needs all hands on deck, and that includes engaging families in this work.
About Chaka Cummings
Chaka Cummings joins the Prichard Committee from Sayre School in Lexington, where he served as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity co-chair, as well as a middle school social studies teacher. Over nearly 2 decades, his career has spanned the gamut as an educator, school administrator, and coach. Chaka has worked with several schools to help advance their DEI practice, leading affinity groups, designing and facilitating professional development for faculty and staff, and supporting numerous school-wide committees focused on equitable policies and practices.
Chaka received his Bachelor’s in Education Studies from Berea College. He received his MBA from the University of Kentucky. Chaka is, also, pursuing his Ph. D in Studies in Higher Education, focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion through the University of Kentucky.
About Brooke Gill
Brooke joined the staff in April 2019. Previously, she served as the Social and Emotional Consultant for the Division of Maternal and Child Health where she was responsible for designing, leading and implementing statewide family engagement and parent education programs. She is the primary author and developer of Connect the Dots: Addressing Challenging Behaviors of Young Children and was instrumental in the launching and statewide expansion of Kentucky Strengthening Families. Brooke is a graduate of Murray State University and holds a MPA from Northern Kentucky University with a certificate in Non-Profit Management.