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California Area School District

Implementation of Holly Day

Parental Engagement





Target group
January 2024
Understand your community needs first and be very intentional about your work. What’s sustainable is what’s easy and manageable. It doesn't always have to be a grandiose plan.

About the implementation

We saw many of the same parents attend our events and knew there had to be a way to expand our reach. Not everyone in our community has had a positive experience in school though. Thinking about that and about other barriers helped the team think about how to address the disconnect. We started with a strategy to improve communication, making it easier for families to be in the know.

What did you do in practice?

To address the communication gap, we initiated weekly Sunday evening info alerts (via texts), stepped up our communication big time through multiple social media sources, joined in the annual December Holly Days community event to connect with families in a social way and conducted a community 5K run in the spring in partnership with our fitness after school club.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

Empathy interviews conducted by the team had identified gaps in communication. We realized that we needed to get to know our families better, needed to communicate better and engage with parents in places beyond the school. That was an "ah-ha" moment, understanding that school might not be the place that makes every parent comfortable.


The new methods of communications made it possible for everyone to be informed — no longer was there just a small group of “in the know” parents. And the decision to go off-site and gather with parents in the community worked in unexpected ways.

Parents met other parents and met kids that they heard about from their own kids.
People let their guards down and were relaxed with each other.
Parents learned more about the after school clubs that their children could attend.
More students attended after school clubs because of the improved communication efforts.
Students got to see their teachers out of school, a connection you couldn’t have planned.
Many of the students in the fitness after school club brought their parents to the 5K.

Learning Journey

Empathy Interviews
A parent on the team had an empathy interview with the guidance counselor that highlighted the barriers families are facing, the gaps across the district, where families are struggling and what resources students might need (another ah-ha moment). It was the empathy interviews that educated us about miscommunication or missed layers of communication. We needed to take an honest look internally at this because we understood, parents are really, really busy and they are trying their best.
Aspirational Statement
Our team wanted to have better connections between parents, teachers and students so that school could better meet the needs of our families and we could avoid miscommunication. With this in mind, our aspirational statement is: "We will build opportunities for teamwork between families, educators and administrators to support students’ learning and wellbeing."
Mini Hack: Sunday Info Alerts
We knew we had to make it easier for families to engage with us so it made sense for our communications to take many forms. One example is the weekly information alert on Sundays that provides detail about the upcoming week. Info might include the after school club schedule, important announcements like a PTA meeting, PSSA testing updates, an upcoming theme day, off days or early dismissal days. These calls happen like clockwork now.
The Fall Hack: Holly Days
At Holly Days, both parents and teachers were in jeans and holiday sweaters, drinking hot cocoa and engaging in informal conversation (the beginning of building of trust). The teachers, para-educators and guidance counselor loved the event. "The response was unbelievable," at least 250 snow globe photos were taken and students delighted in getting a photo with their teacher. As part of this popular community event, we had the chance to simply focus on joyful time with families.
Another Hack: Community 5K Walk/Race
In our next family-school engagement hack, the team focused on reaching families we don't often see because their kids are not involved in after school sports. Through a program we call CRUSH IT, we hosted a 5K walk/race for parents and kids to do together after school. This gave the teachers and school administrators a chance to spend more quality time with these families, again in a way that focused on relationship building.
Reflection and Next Steps
Talking to people was crucial. The experimental mini-hack was another ah-ha moment. It helped the team realize that we could do successful family-school engagement in ways that didn’t need a big budget. We also really focused on a guiding question — who are the people we're missing, who aren't coming to school events? Going forward, a fall and a spring community event will become part of the school plan. And we'll share this framework with the parent organization to grow our reach.


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. Our District encompasses approximately 35 square miles (91 km2) and we are among the smallest districts in Pennsylvania.

California Area School District