Oct. 26, 2020 -- When you picture family engagement in schools, you might imagine parents hosting bake sales or chaperoning school dances. But in CH-UH, family engagement has taken on a whole new meaning, one that is bound to academic outcomes and student success: “Family engagement refers to the systemic inclusion of families in activities and programs that promote children’s development, learning and wellness,” according to the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center.
Cleveland Heights-University Heights is one of 30 districts across Ohio chosen to participate in a three-year model program for the National Network of Partnership Schools. NNPS is a framework designed by Dr. Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University to connect schools, families and community partners in support of student achievement.
The district’s Family Engagement Specialist Lisa Hunt was trained by Dr. Epstein and is working to “honor the fidelity of the program,” which is based on 30 years of data in family engagement. Ms. Hunt believes that this approach will help “deliver equitable outcomes” across the Heights. Monticello Middle and Noble Elementary School have been chosen to pilot the NNPS program, which is funded by the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center.
Ms. Hunt is working with leaders at Monticello and Noble to create Action Teams comprised of school staff, parents, and community members who are invested in student and school-wide success. The Action Teams will create four goals, two tied to academic achievement, one that is behavioral and one related to school climate. The intention is to more fully engage parents in their child’s learning and to think hard about “how we build family engagement as a practice and not just an activity,” said Ms. Hunt. “We hope to weave together all the places where a child lives, learns and plays so they’re equally focused on specific goals.”
Each school’s goals will be different and will reflect their specific strengths and challenges as a building. “It’s important that the district not go in and tell the Action Teams what they need to focus on,” said Nancy Peppler, Supervisor of Community and School Partnerships, who will help oversee NNPS implementation at Noble as it becomes a Community Learning Center. “The goals will look different at each school because they’re built by the community.”
The district has already seen success with the NNPS framework through its preschool programs, which have been following the model for the past three years with funding from the state’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten program. Danielle Foran, an Early Childhood Specialist, oversees the Pre-K programs at Noble, Gearity and Oxford. She’s helped to coordinate parent engagement classes, conscious discipline workshops, and a “menu of opportunities for families to engage in their child’s learning.”
Sometimes it might be as simple as sending home materials and instructions for making Play-Doh during remote learning or more involved like guiding parents through setting up a Safe Space for their child to deal with their emotions at home. Giving parents the same tools, strategies and language that are used in school helps to reinforce concepts, whether they’re related to behavior management or to “new math.”
The ultimate goal is for parents and schools to be on the same page, for parents to understand what and how their children are learning so they can reiterate those ideas and strategies at home. Ms. Foran is excited to see the NNPS framework expanded into the upper grades. The preschool families at Noble are already “used to the idea that family engagement is important but then once their kid enters kindergarten, the door sort of closes and you know a lot less about what your child is doing everyday. This model can change that.”
CH-UH’s early childhood programs have been included in Johns Hopkins’ Promising Practices newsletter twice already, a great honor. Most recently they were recognized for building a multi-copy library so that when a teacher introduced a new book in class, each child could bring home a copy to reread with their families for the week.
As family engagement practices trickle up into the elementary and middle school buildings and become part of district culture, Ms. Foran wondered, “What could achievement look like if we truly build parent and community capacity to support student learning?” She and Ms. Hunt and Ms. Peppler all have high hopes.