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Charleroi School District

Implementation of Donuts with Grownups

Parental Engagement
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Target group
January 2024
Parents really enjoy coming up and being a part of their kids’ lives at school, but they may not know how to go about it. When they’re given an opportunity, they clearly are glad to take it.

About the implementation

Some parents did not have a great school experience as a child and therefore are hesitant to engage with their child's school. We wanted to change this and remove as many barriers as possible. We hosted a series of fun and casual events that intentionally created positive interactions between parents and teachers. This has led to a stronger relationship which ultimately benefits our students.

What did you do in practice?

We experimented with a number of events and tried different design levers. Our first event built on an existing end-of-year event with a luau theme. Then, we purposely reached out to parents who weren't typically engaged to ask how they wanted to be involved. Our "Donuts with Grownups" was a chance for students to invite a caring adult to a casual breakfast, setting it up for parents and teachers to meet early on and share a positive experience. Later, "Off the Wall Arts" was a fun event that created a meaningful memento for families to take home as a positive memory from school.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

Nearly 60% of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Our families have many struggles that we are not aware of and school may not feel like a welcoming place based on past experience. We understand that, now, but care about our school community and wanted to show that to our parents. By hosting a series of inviting events, we worked to enable positive interactions and favorable shared memories between parents and teachers. This has resulted in a level of trust that has made it easier to talk with parents, particularly at tough times when issues of concern arise.


Everyone was thrilled! Teachers felt they were developing an authentic relationship with parents. Parents felt more comfortable interacting with the school and coming to the building. And, kids were excited about the fun events and the opportunity to show their parents what they do at school each day. These events helped us build teamwork and trust between school and home.

80 of 118 first grade families joined us for "Donuts with Grownups."
Teachers were appreciative and enjoyed establishing a positive relationship with parents.
Kids were excited to show off the school to their parents.
Parents overcame their own negative school experience and saw how their child's school cared deeply.
Introduced were a series of fun events designed for positive interactions between home and school.
Parents were ready to partner with teachers when there were attendance or academic issues.

Learning Journey

Empathy Interviews
We conducted empathy interviews to better understand our community and learned there was a stigma about school being "all work." Traditionally, parents were only contacted about adverse issues like attendance and academic problems. There were few options for them to be positively involved in their children’s school lives. We wanted to show how school can have a highly positive side for students, teachers, and families and also needed to build better trust between school and home.
Aspirational Statement
The empathy interviews led us to focus on creating events that appealed to students, with the aligned goal of increasing parental involvement. We also wanted the engagement to be fun and informal. With that in mind, our team chose the following aspirational statement: "We will build opportunities for teamwork between families, educators, and administrators to support students’ learning and wellbeing."
Community Context
We knew that parents from lower-income families came to the annual open house event but were less likely to come to parent and teacher conferences. So our team focused on getting these parents to be more comfortable about coming to the school, which could build relationships and lead to better attendance at academic-oriented conferences and events. We decided to change things at an upcoming end-of-year celebration.
Mini-Hack: Luau
The school always does an end-of-year luau and a small group of very involved parents normally helps out. We wanted to change this, so the team encouraged people who don’t usually participate to be part of the planning and execution of the luau. We created unifying t-shirts for everyone who was involved. Teachers helped "sell" the luau to make it sound exciting to students and parents. We aimed to make the luau as inclusive and inviting as possible.
What We Learned
Some of the parents who we thought would not help or not attend were more than willing to be involved. Parents wanted to be a part of the luau but didn't know how. We realized parents might have had a fear of coming to school because they may have struggled in school themselves and had a bad experience. At the luau, there were many positive conversations. Parents, teachers and students had fun. Teachers learned about parents' hopes for their kids, a vital first step toward trust-building.
Hack: Donuts with Grownups
We experimented with a new event called "Donuts with Grownups." Students could bring a parent or another caregiver and have breakfast with the child’s teacher on a school day morning. Parents got to know teachers on a human level — see them as a person, not just a name or a role. And parents met other parents, building relationships within the school community. Because this was hosted at the beginning of the school year, parents and teachers had a chance to set off on a positive step together.
Learnings from Donuts with Grownups
This event was a success: 80 grownups of 118 first graders attended. Kids were excited for parents to see their school space. Teachers were thrilled to meet these caring adults and get to know them. We were also glad we intentionally chose the phrase, “Grownups,” rather than “Parents.” Some students brought an older sibling or a guardian or another caring person, though many did bring a mother or father. Teachers also saw that the adults made the effort to come and that had a positive impact.
More Events
We learned that we needed to create more opportunities for parents to engage with the school and have fun. This led to a “date night” for a parent and child around Valentine’s Day for students in grades 3-5, as well as two Bingo Night events. We intentionally kept these events low key and small so it didn't feel overwhelming. Yet, the connections made between home and school were immeasurable. Families felt comfortable coming to school and kids were excited for these fun events.
Another Hack: Off the Wall Arts
With help from a new art teacher, we partnered with a local “paint and sip” business called Off the Wall Arts. Families were invited to create a painted canvas designed with a tree and all the family members’ names. Teachers were able to work with families on a fun activity that helped inspire creativity from the students. Cookies and tea were provided. And, the paintings were gifted to the families so it became a positive school memory at home.
Our Reflections
Teachers and administrators may have chosen their careers because they had a relatively good school experience as children. But we must remember that not all parents had a good school experience and therefore might not immediately engage. We learned that parents have a desire to be there for their kids and we needed to create ways to engage them in a comfortable setting. We have positive momentum and will continue to host fun events that intentionally connect parents and teachers.


The Charleroi Area School District is comprised of the boroughs of Charleroi, Dunlevy, North Charleroi, Speers, Stockdale, Twilight and Fallowfield Township. The district is 25 miles South of Pittsburgh and encompasses approximately 26 square miles.

Charleroi School District