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Baldwin Whitehall School District

Implementation of Unite and Ignite!

Parental Engagement







Target group
February 2024
Our parents attend events to support their children. They are "involved" but don’t really see their relationships with the school community as collaborative "engagement" that will ultimately benefit their child’s performance and achievement.

About the implementation

We wanted to open lines of communication between home and school and broaden our network to involve more voices, partnerships and collaboration as a “CommUnity.” Our relaxed, parent-focused hack aimed to connect more parents, families and community members to the school district in ways that produced good outcomes for all.

What did you do in practice?

Our spring mini hack was part of a bigger community event called "We are Neighbors." Mostly students took part in an art installation project and some parents provided survey information that would guide the PAA team. For the fall hack, we invited all parents and caregivers to attend an adult-focused event where fire pits, food, games and childcare were available. The goal was to test ways that encouraged family and school engagement.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

Parents had identified the school's communication practices as a concern. This problem was reinforced by other non-English speaking parents. By hosting an adult-friendly event where we could all come together, talk and get to know each other, we would introduce a relaxed, more comfortable way for parents to share concerns we might not otherwise hear. Food and conversation around a fire pit was a nontraditional approach but it seemed that our families were asking us to think differently about creating trust and building the relationships that lead to trust.


The team agreed that our spring mini-hack had not fully met our goal. That realization was valuable because it helped us rethink the fall hack and how to more intentionally bring parents and administration, teachers and staff together in ways that would encourage conversation and relationship building. Knowing each other as people (beyond our roles) was the outcome we wanted to set in motion.

Several parents signed up to be more connected to our future work.
Guests mingled, met new people, shared stories, asked questions and enjoyed each other’s company.
We had a positive review of the event by all who attended.
The desire to do more has evolved into the E.M.B.R.A.C.E. team for enhanced connections.

Learning Journey

Empathy interviews: The starting point of human-centered design
Our interviews helped the team better understand needs in our school community, which helped prioritize a communication gap. Ideas emerged from our discussions that included: an event with fire pits as conversation venues, painting public benches our school color to create visibly safe community places to communicate, and hosting a tailgate before a school board meeting. All these ideas aimed at more comfortable ways of encouraging meaningful communication between parent and school.
Bringing focus to the journey: Our aspirational statement
The feedback we received from various sources, including our experience as members of the Baldwin Whitehall school community and the empathy interviews, led us to agree on this aspirational statement: We will build trust between families, educators, and administrators.
The Mini Hack: A small trial run
During a district-wide event the team hosted a booth to connect with families. Our art installation project asked students, parents and community to finish this question, “The purpose of school is…?”. We also asked for a vote on three options the team had identified: fire pit conversations, painting benches purple around the district or a pre-Board meeting tailgate. Our booth attracted more interest from students than parents so our goal moving forward was to host a parent-only event.
“Unite and Ignite”: A commitment to forging connections
The team marked a significant milestone by hosting their very first parent engagement event, "Unite and Ignite." This exciting occasion drew a diverse and enthusiastic audience, showcasing the commitment of the district to foster stronger connections among families, educators, administrators and students. Featured at the event were multiple fire pits and the chance to win prizes. The event was not only a relaxing evening out but also a testament to the collaborative efforts of the PAA team.
What we learned: Every experience adds to the learning curve
Our hacks were focused on our goals but missed the mark a bit in terms of audience and outcome. We provided a starting point, although not necessarily the kind of intimate conversations that we hoped to engage in to support positive connections in our district. As a team, we know that this work is important and we will continue to expand our reach to attract more voices. We know from feedback outside of our Parents as Allies work that parents want their voices to be heard.
Sustainability: Collaborations grow reach
A larger off-shoot of our PAA team is “E.M.B.R.A.C.E.” (Engage Member, Bridge Relationships And Create Enriching Experiences). This group began to sustain our momentum and focus on embracing community events and opportunities, future programming and growth, networking and partnerships. We plan to strengthen family and community connections through effective communication, collaboration and engaging events.


The Baldwin-Whitehall School District is situated in Allegheny County and educates more than 4400 students from the Boroughs of Baldwin and Whitehall and Baldwin Township who attend classes in four buildings, including one high school and middle school and three elementary schools. The school district covers approximately 10-square miles and is located less than 10 miles from the heart of Pennsylvania’s second largest city, Pittsburgh.

Baldwin-Whitehall School District