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Deer Lakes School District

Implementation of Revamped Open House

Parental Engagement







Target group
January 2024
Historically, getting parents involved in middle school is hard. We were looking for ways to engage parents and build strong relationships.

About the implementation

Middle school is a tough time for any student and family. And, oddly, this is when we see parental engagement decrease. We wanted to turn this around by reimagining our traditional Open House into a dynamic tour and team building activity for parents, teachers and students. And, by sharing educational learnings through the Unified Arts Day, parents might become better allies to teachers.

What did you do in practice?

We re-invented the Open House to be more than the traditional classroom visit and formal presentation into something far more dynamic. By including student and teacher voices in the planning, the new format turned into a fun street fair-like event and intentional "get to know each other" for parents, students and teachers through engaging team building activities.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

We focused on reimagining the Open House for several reasons: Our middle school families would feel welcomed and excited about the transition, our teachers and parents would have an opportunity to connect at the start of the school year to help set a positive tone and begin building trust, and our families would know that we want them to be engaged with us and need them as partners in their child's education. Our parents are realizing that just because their child is entering middle school, there are many reasons to remain engaged with the school and support the teachers and their students.


As we experimented with our family-school engagement hacks, we heard positive feedback from parents, teachers and students. They saw that we were actively trying to create something new through the revamped open house and new events like the Unified Arts Day. Parents felt comfortable and teachers felt they were building trust with the parents.

Attendance to the revamped Open House went through the roof.
Students gave us new ideas for reimagining the Open House.
Teachers appreciated being involved from the beginning.
We collected data and insights from parents about what they thought was the purpose of school.
Families who we typically don't see were engaged with us for the first time.

Learning Journey

Empathy Interviews
Our team of parents and educators conducted empathy interviews to better understand our school community. We learned that parents want to understand how to better connect with teachers. And, our teachers want to find ways to involve parents more actively in the school. Our administrators also learned that we needed to be intentional about making time for parents and teachers to authentically connect and build a relationship.
Aspirational Statement
Our team cared deeply about understanding the goals and dreams of our families for their students. We suspected that our parents and teachers shared similar goals and dreams but we needed to find ways to talk about it. With this in mind, our team’s aspirational statement is to understand family and educator beliefs about the purpose of school.
Hack: Reinventing Open House
We typically have a decline in parental engagement during the middle school transition so we reinvented our traditional Open House. Students helped with the planning to create a welcoming street fair atmosphere featuring string lights, catered food from local restaurants and sweet treats. Instead of presentations, teachers paired with families to talk and participate in team building activities. This gave parents and teachers a chance to interact in a whole new way.
What We Learned
At the reinvented Open House, parents were able to connect with other parents and kids were able to meet each other. It helped close a communication gap. And, because of the level of positivity and trust, parents felt comfortable with teachers and school staff. The parent co-lead from our team noted, “It was nice for the parents and kids to see their teacher in a different light.” We learned it was important to create intentional time and space for parents, kids and teachers to all connect.
Another Hack: Unified Arts Day
Our team wanted to experiment with another family-school engagement hack. The "Unified Arts Day" featured our teachers from art, STEM, Computer Science, Wellness Ed., Foreign Language, and Technology Ed. We engaged students in a showcase of activities to highlight what they were learning. This was shared with parents and provided some insight into what their students were learning. An addd benefit was the conversation it encouraged at home.
Our Reflections
This work has been meaningful for our school community. We've learned that you need a good group of people to work together who will commit to removing all the barriers. Our team had a wide range of backgrounds which helped us better understand our families. And it's critical to find different ways for teachers to be involved. Looking forward, we will never go back to the traditional Open House. We will actively create opportunities that intentionally bring parents and teachers together.


The Deer Lakes School District is nestled in the heart of the Alle-Kiski Valley in northeastern Allegheny County, approximately 25 miles outside of downtown Pittsburgh. The district covers an area of approximately 41 square miles and is coterminous with the political boundaries of the townships of East Deer, Frazer and West Deer.

Deer Lakes School District