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Ambridge Area School District

Implementation of Let's Tailgate!

Parental Engagement





Target group
January 2024
There wasn’t a big connection between the community and the middle school. A majority of the parents we were trying to reach lacked transportation beyond school hours. We needed to begin building relationships that could lead to trust.

About the implementation

The middle school sits 20 minutes from downtown Ambridge but there is no public transportation. We asked ourselves: What can we wrap our hack around to reach families we don’t hear from? A tailgate at the big football rivalry game was the answer. The stadium is an easily accessible central location, even walkable. The idea was to bring school families and school staff together in a relaxed way.

What did you do in practice?

The tailgate we implemented was a way to meet parents where they were and begin a new journey together. There were food trucks, line dancing and yard games, all meant to promote fun and socializing in a comfortable way between families, teachers, administrators and Board members. We had learned that the community does want to be involved but didn’t know how. And, some people have good intentions but don’t have the means, like transportation. The tailgate made it easy.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

We had listened to our families. An earlier zoom meeting with parents had given them an opportunity to share what they wanted from the school...how the school could help and how we might work together. One concern was communication, another was whether the school was rooting for the community. Concerns about the middle school also were heard and we wanted to challenge these perceptions and show that good change was underway.


We had a huge turnout at the Tailgate: 42 families signed up, 50 families attended, close to 200 people total. Some people came for the tailgate and didn't even stay for the football game! Our families had a great time and the teachers and administrators were able to have informal conversation with parents. These informal conversations helped parents see that the school was approachable and cared.

Parents saw their students engage with teachers, realizing that positive things were happening.
Parents asked how they could help, donated supplies/decorations, volunteered to help at Halloween.
Parents started to realize they were welcome to reach out to the staff.
Better attendance of the students in school.
Parents knowing that the school and principal have big and authentic expectations for students.

Learning Journey

Learning from our Community Empathy Interviews
Empathy interviews revealed a disconnect between parents and school involvement, habits in the home that carried over to the school resulting in discipline issues and apathy toward learning, and lack of communication and follow through. The need to create connections was obvious. We asked our parent co-lead, a genuine connector, what does the community need? What is missing? What is the connection we need to make? We needed to create a way to engage more parents.
Aspiration Statement
Our empathy interviews helped our team collectively agreed that this aspiration statement needed to guide us: "We will build opportunities for collaboration between diverse families, educators, and administrators to support students learning and well-being." It was important that parents saw that teachers and administrators were building positive relationships with their students and that the school wanted to create those positive relationship with the families too.
Our Hack: the Tailgate
The tailgate succeeded beyond expectations. The high school provided the space outside the football stadium which was accessible to everyone. The football game between Ambridge and rival Aliquippa was a draw. Parents, students and teachers came together in a fun way, saw each other in a completely different light, and enjoyed the novelty of it. Parents saw their middle schoolers interact positively with teachers which helped build their confidence in the school. It's like we hit a reset button.
What Families Told Us
Families shared, "We've never been to an event like this for us," and "We hope there are more events like these." The teachers liked the chance to talk with families in a more informal way and admin and teachers brought their own families to the tailgate. It was rewarding to see the joy and happiness, and for people to really come out and believe in what we’re doing at the middle school, to recognize that we have the best interests of our students and our families at heart.
What We Learned
A key learning: Meet with the people. See literally what they're asking for and don’t assume you know what they want. A lot of schools assume they know what families want and need but we’re not necessarily hearing from the voices of people who need our help. Hold events where people can just be people. Let parents see that the admin aren’t just disciplinarians. Looking ahead: To be sustainable, keep the positivity, engage community connectors on your team, keep experimenting.


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

Ambridge Area School District
Ambridge Area Middle School