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Ambridge Area Highland Elementary School

Implementation of Highland, Let’s Bridge The Gap

Parental Engagement


This implementation is a part of the project:
Adrianna Cephas
Linda Krynski
Amber Terrick
Jasmine Ross
Ronnell Heard







Target group
February 2024
It was good for the parents to see that they have many similarities with the Highland teachers and staff, and do many of the same things. This helps to create comfort, begins to “bridge the gap” and opens up conversation.

About the implementation

The Highland Elementary School team needed to bridge the gap between teachers/staff, parents and students. Our school had previously hosted an ice cream social that brought out many families. We wanted to do that again, but more broadly, in hopes that a fun, relaxed evening together would be a start toward conveying the desire for relationship-building among us.

What did you do in practice?

In a mini-hack, we asked parents, staff and students about their expectations of each other. This led to a school event that included all staff: the custodian, cafeteria staff, teachers, administrators - and families. Fun facts that staff provided about themselves were made into posters that decorated the cafeteria. The parents had this info in hand for their classroom visits. Perhaps they both had teenagers? Perhaps they were fans of the same hockey team? “The facts” served as conversation starters. It was all designed to be welcoming, comfortable and engaging to parents and school staff.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

Our hack, Let’s Bridge the Gap, aimed to complement the school’s high attendance event, Open House. This was a good fit because this annual calendar event brings parents and teachers together. We designed our hack to go deeper, to build on the advantage of having families in the building to ask direct questions about their needs, hopes and dreams. This was all done while socializing over pizza and ice cream, an easy way to lower barriers and encourage conversation and relationship-building.


In planning Let’s Bridge the Gap,” we knew that food would be an attraction. We engaged local businesses to help us out, places known to those in our community. Building upon a familiar event like Open House was just the starting point we needed.

Over 100 families engaged in the activities, food, dessert and games.
Families sent thank you notes that expressed their gratitude for the free activities.
Parents and school staff learned how much they have in common.
While the school hadn’t formerly allowed volunteers, they did this year. What a difference!
After two years of our Parents as Allies program, visitors receive a warmer welcome at the school.

Learning Journey

Learning about our school community: Empathy interviews
We began with empathy interviews to better understand where communication was breaking down among families, school staff and students. We learned from the people we interviewed and discovered that educators and parents identified many of the same issues, a common concern being communication. Knowing the lay of the land better, the team came together to come up with a strategy we could try to improve communication between these key groups.
Focusing the team, and our hacks: An aspirational statement
Based on each team member’s experience in the district and also what we learned from the empathy interviews, the team agreed on this aspirational statement: We will create opportunities for engagement in ways that are responsive to diverse language, cultural, socioeconomic and gender backgrounds.
It helped to start small: The Mini Hack
Following the empathy interviews, the team identified three survey questions to be answered dependent on a respondent’s individual role or perspective as a teacher, parent or student. We asked teachers for their expectations of parents, parents for their expectations of teachers, and students about their expectations of both teachers and school staff. Surprisingly, the survey results showed how much we have in common. It was encouraging, and an aha moment for us.
Going bigger: The Fall Hack
Each elementary school staff completed a get-to-know-you form that became an informational poster that hung in the cafeteria. One teacher’s poster said, “I enjoy walking, watching my kids play sports, and I LOVE reading!” Some follow-up questions about the fun facts gave parents the chance to win a gift card. Importantly, the information also gave them something to talk about in their classroom visits with teachers. Tasty foods added to the comfort overall.
Insights: What we learned
People often have a complaint but not always a suggestion. Yet, when they see a solutions-oriented program, they are often interested and want to participate. Our hack was such a success that many families thought that the Parent Teacher Organization had hosted it, not knowing that the event was organized by Parents as Allies. Because the PTO is active, it has shown us that we can continue to do engagement like this with the backing of the PTO, and together, we can work to bridge the gap.
Next: New ideas are brewing or in the works
Following the introduction of Parents as Allies at Broad Street Elementary, and now Highland, we hope to form a team at a third elementary school in the district, State Street. As one of the smaller elementary schools they are prime for growth under great principal leadership. Meanwhile, Highland’s principal wants to continue to build relationships, let parents know that our doors are open, that they are part of the school community and they're integral to their child's education.


The Ambridge Area School District is a midsized, urban public school district in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. It serves the boroughs of Ambridge, Baden, Economy and South Heights and Harmony Township. The district encompasses approximately 27 square miles.

United States
Highland Elementary School