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Keystone Oaks School District

Implementation of Night to Unite

Parental Engagement





Target group
January 2024
Sometimes it’s just doing something simple. It doesn’t have to be a big, complicated event. Sometimes you just need to open your doors literally and invite people in to sit down and ask their questions.

About the implementation

Middle school can be a particularly hard transition for students and their families. In order for parents, students and teachers to connect, we reinvented the Open House experience to create more interactions and build trust. We also learned that families did not know how many programs we offered. This led to a new event that featured a showcase of after-school activities and community resources.

What did you do in practice?

We listened first to families and learned from parents and students what they worry about when transitioning to middle school. With this info, we experimented and iterated with each event we hosted. We began with a movie night for 5th graders. Then we reinvented the Open House with help from teachers. And, we showcased the after school options, services and learning activities the middle school has available as choices for students.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

For our parents, we wanted them to feel and see that we have as caring and supportive educators at the middle school as they had at the elementary level. And for our teachers and educators, we wanted to help them see our parents as partners and to recognize the value of positive interactions that help build trusting and mutually beneficial relationships between schools and families.


Our family-school engagement strategies related to middle school transition were well-received. Through surveys and informal comments, students and parents shared they felt more connected to the school and felt more comfortable approaching the teachers with questions.

Parents shared they felt more comfortable with the middle school transition.
Students talked about what happened after each event which generated positive momentum.
All the after-school clubs participated to share their activities and how they could help.
New partnerships formed with community orgs as well as knowledge of their resources.
Teachers volunteered to help with each middle school transition event.
Teachers shared ideas on how to reimagine Open House.

Learning Journey

Empathy Interviews
Our team of parents, teachers and administrators conducted empathy interviews to learn more from our middle school teachers and parents. We learned from families that we needed to lessen the abrupt transition to middle school. One of the traditional barriers to family-school engagement is the opportunity for families to actually visit the school. We learned we needed to make the building more accessible to parents. This easy change would grow their familiarity and comfort in the middle school.
Aspirational Statement
Our empathy interviews made clear the tremendous "heart" that our parents, teachers and administrators share for our students. We all desire the best for them. Our goal in strengthening our family-school engagement is to build on this commonality and create real partnerships between families and schools. With that, our aspirational statement is: We will build trust between families, educators and administrators.
Mini-Hack: 5th grade movie night
Three elementary schools unite at one district middle school and we knew we had to help families with this transition. We first experimented with a movie night for our 5th graders. Students watched a movie and had time to get to know each other while families explored the school to feel more comfortable in the space. Parents had the chance to ask their questions of teachers and administrators. All of this helped lessen the anxiety of families through what can be a stressful transition.
Hack: Reinventing the Middle School Open House
Middle school parents were invited to a fun event! Rather than hosting a traditional open house with presentations, we had the students show the middle school to their parents. There were fun activities like a self-made mini-golf course and ice cream making with the consumer ed teacher. Other teachers hosted mummy games and glow-in-the-dark language art games. This gave parents a chance to interact with their kids and also gave parents and teachers a chance to connect in a low-stress manner.
What We Learned
We learned that day-to-day interactions matter. It doesn't have to be formal but something fun and engaging where families, teachers and students can just be themselves. Parents want to support their students and their education but don’t know how to do it. When parents and teachers play games and work together, the relaxed atmosphere can ignite relationship building. In our case, we saw parents feel more comfortable reaching out to teachers with questions during the school year.
Another Hack: Middle School Activities Fair
We focused our next family-school engagement event on the transition for 5th graders into middle school. There was a misperception by families that there weren't any after school activities. This Middle School Activities Fair was a showcase of the many sponsored club activities available for incoming 6th graders, along with a rich variety of community resources for families such as our libraries, language resources, free/reduced lunch information and much more.
Reflections and Tips
Through our journey, we learned that you won’t be able to build trust if you don’t take suggestions to heart and make changes. We learned to start small and really listen to the challenges and experiences that our families were facing. This gave us a lot of insight into where we could partner with families, whether it’s through a new event, improved communication or increasing needed services as identified by families.


Located just outside of the City of Pittsburgh, the Keystone Oaks School District serves the communities of Castle Shannon, Dormont and Green Tree. The District spans 4.5 square miles and has a population of more than 21,000.

Keystone Oaks School District