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Brentwood Borough School District

Implementation of Welcome Bags

Parental Engagement
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Target group
January 2024
We found that having 'the right people in the right seats' on the metaphorical bus is key. You need team members who really have empathy for others. They can be the model for the rest of the school community.

About the implementation

As demographics in our community were changing, we intentionally created programs that helped welcome our new families, especially our English Language Learner families. As we listened, we learned that our students want to be a part of the community and feel included which led to the idea of "welcome bags." We also celebrated the rich diversity of our students through a multi-cultural event.

What did you do in practice?

We focused on welcoming our new students to the middle school, especially given the growth in immigrant and refugee families. We provided "welcome bags" that included school-branded items to help students feel a part of the school community. And, we also hosted a half-day, multi-cultural where many different traditions, cultures and places around the world were celebrated. We wanted all of our students to feel that they were included, seen and welcomed.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

The demographics in our district were changing, something that was especially evident at the middle school. There, 30% of the prior year’s 8th grade class had joined the district during middle school, rather than coming from one of the district’s elementary schools. It was also noteworthy that a great many of the students were new English-language learners. We knew that the district needed to do a better job of welcoming these students and supporting them as valued members of the community.


Our family-school engagement hacks went well. We learned from each hack and continued to improve our next strategy to engage new students and families. Students were visibly excited when they received their welcome bags. And, we had an incredible turnout at our multi-cultural event. Through our signage project, we created a new display space for students to share about Ramadan.

More than 20 students and teachers ran stations for our multi-cultural event.
The entire high school attended and celebrated at the multi-cultural event.
Students asked for their welcome bags if they missed getting their bag.
Families and students shared they felt that they had someone to turn to during the school year.
When surveyed, new students said “agree” or “strongly agree” that they had a positive experience.
Students and families now help us identify their needs for the school to help with.

Learning Journey

How We Started
We were encouraged to try small things first and explore different options, rather than expecting to commit to a long-term plan early on. It helped us to see parent/school engagement as “a work-in-progress.” The empathy interviews helped us explore ideas. And a key finding was useful: When students were excited about an event, their parents were more likely to attend. We learned that a key to parent engagement is through student engagement.
Aspirational Statement
With the changing demographics of our school community, it was important to us that our new students felt included and welcomed, especially our English Language Learner families. This led us to our aspirational statement: We will create opportunities for engagement in ways that are responsive to diverse language, cultural, socioeconomic, and gender backgrounds.
Mini Hack: Reimagining Signage
Many different languages are spoken by our middle school students. Our team reimagined the building’s signage (which was entirely in English) and created new signs in the three most commonly spoken languages to welcome people and point the way to key locations (medical office, counseling office, gym, etc.). We hoped the presence of multiple languages signaled to students that we are a welcoming place and ELL students are valued - to generally convey inclusiveness.
Hack: Welcome Bags
We asked students how we could be more help, and they told us they wanted to "fit in." The idea of welcome bags was born! The bags included a t-shirt with the school’s logo on it for them to wear at school spirit events, a school-branded tote bag and a water bottle. These items make students feel like part of the group – a vital thing during middle school – and receiving the bag as a gift took the pressure off families to find and buy the items.
Another Hack: Multi-Cultural Event
We shifted our focus to high school students and planned a half-day multicultural event where many traditions, cultures and places around the world were celebrated. At nearly two dozen stations, students could get henna tattoos, learn guacamole making, discover cultural dances and much more. Each station was run by one or more students or by teachers, involving the whole community. Per family feedback, it was a success: “Everybody felt like a part of something that day.”
Our Takeaways
Begin by asking questions as opposed to starting with your own internal planning. What school staff thinks is needed may not be what the students and their families actually need. It is also vital to have diverse voices involved, while on a practical level it is also important to have a clear point person who is helping to drive the work. Creating an environment where parents feel they can take the lead is important.


The Brentwood Borough School District is located within Allegheny County and covers a 1.4 square mile area. Brentwood is a walking district and accommodates students in kindergarten through twelfth grades.

Brentwood Borough School District