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California Area High School/Middle School

Implementation of Tailgate Party

Parental Engagement


This implementation is a part of the project:







Target group
February 2024
We may take for granted the privileges we have that are not available in districts with high numbers of marginalized families. Even something like a tailgate party may be a new experience for those without access to college and pro football games.

About the implementation

California is a tight knit community with about 60 families per grade level. Our elementary school focuses on parent engagement through various activities. The high school families are similarly involved in extracurricular activities and athletic boosters, but there is a major gap in engagement with parents of middle school families. Our hack intended to create some excitement and interest.

What did you do in practice?

For our big fall hack, students and families were invited to a Trojan Tailgate Party that featured a DJ (the school principal), games, food, swag bags for all and fun. Due to rain, the tailgate was moved indoors although it did not dampen the fun for families, staff and students. Approximately 80% of the middle school students stayed after school for the tailgate and we reached nearly 50% of the families of the students who stayed after school. The tailgate was held the same day as our football team’s senior night and we had many families stop in for a bite to eat right before the game.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

Within the rural California Area community, athletics is a strong common thread and an interest we can build upon. We wanted to embrace what we are doing well and benefit the mission of the Parents as Allies (PAA) team to initiate trust between families, educators, and administrators. By bringing families, students, teachers, and administrators together in a fun event like the tailgate, an opportunity would be created for all of us to begin the work of positive bonding and building relationships within the middle school community.


At first, it started off slowly - the majority of the participants were students. It took about an hour before we began to see an uptick in the number of families arriving. It was encouraging to see the families interacting and engaging with the Parents as Allies team.

Students were using the swag bag items in school the following week.
About 30 people asked about extra swag bags and if we would be doing another tailgate-style event.
The students had a safe, fun space to go before the game, complete with food…a plus for families.
New connections were made between parents, paraprofessionals and teachers.
100% of students surveyed said, “Yes, I had fun today;” 64.3% had not attended a tailgate before.
We now have a dance session in in the gym after school for fun, an activity bus gets kids home.
There were fewer discipline incidents the week after the tailgate.

Learning Journey

Our North Star: To build trust
Our Parents as Allies team wanted to focus on relationship building and trust with families at the middle school level. Following on our families’ elementary school experience, the middle school and its staff represented a new setting and a different cast of characters, and comfort and new relationships needed to be formed or grown for trust to follow. This common intention led to our aspiration: We will build trust between families, educators, and administrators.
The Mini-Hack: An ice cream social
In an interesting shift, our school is safer now but seems more closed off to families because of the effects of “stranger danger training” for school staff. The ice cream social was an unexpectedly wide open invitation for families. At the end of a lunch period, families were invited to the cafeteria to share ice cream with the students. The event lasted 20 minutes and allowed parents to see their children during the school day, creating a memory we all shared. About 12% of families attended.
The team: Widening the lens
Three of four on our PAA team were NOT from our city. This was in consideration of a known cultural dynamic: “I went to California and my kids went to California and now my grandkids go to California,” a grounding that often limits broader experience. We wanted a fair representation of the district, different ethnicities, different levels of socio-economic status and to represent those with disabilities. We also benefited from involving new parents who brought fresh perspectives and ideas.
Sustaining the effort: Learning from experience
Our mini and fall hacks tested ideas for family and school engagement. But other planned efforts are needed too, like maintaining lines of communication, particularly with the PAA team with whom ideas are sparked. Our secondary principal also wants to get input from parents through evening advisory meetings. Virtual options make these connections easier to do. Getting families in the building is effective too. An early morning get-together like “Donuts with dads/teachers/etc.” is another idea.


The California Area School District is a small public school district serving the boroughs of Allenport, California, Coal Center, Elco, Long Branch and Roscoe and West Pike Run Township in Washington County, Pennsylvania. A high percentage of students receive free and reduced lunch which contributes to their lack of experience beyond California, PA, or exposure to diversity.

California Area High School