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Pittsburgh Public Schools/Pittsburgh Promise collaboration

Implementation of Back-To-School Block Party

Parental Engagement
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Target group
March 2024
We know it is going to take consistency to build trust among parents and parents with the school, but we are on the path to growing more connected and trusting as a community. Every win matters.

About the implementation

Parents want the school to hold their children to a high enough standard to become the respectful, intelligent, successful adults they want them to be. And parents want to trust other parents to be responsible about their children's behavior. Through our hack, we wanted to demonstrate our interest in helping create these accountabilities and trusting relationships.

What did you do in practice?

The goal for our fall hack was to inspire a positive start to the new school year and to create a fun atmosphere that parents and educators could enjoy together. Community partnerships, the school leadership and the school staff all came together to support our event which featured music, food and games. Many teachers, the principal and assistant principal volunteered at the event and mingled with families. We went into the community and hosted the event on a Saturday afternoon to make it easier for families and to promote a comfortable environment.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

An urban school system faces many opportunities and challenges, and we are no different. Our team wanted to promote connections between home and school and kick off the school year with better avenues to relationship building. The empathy interviews were helpful for the insights they provided about parents’ reluctance to engage with the school. Safety was one of the issues. Trust is central to these concerns and a big reason that our efforts toward relationship building must be ongoing.


It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and music filled the air. There was a festive feeling and families that attended enjoyed the food, the games and resources. However, we did not have the turnout we had hoped for. We learned that other events were occurring the same day that drew away families we hoped to attract.

Families with younger age children attended the event and had a positive experience with staff.
It was a joy to see parents, students and school staff line dancing with one another.
A number of parents and students played Bingo together which led to some bonding opportunities.
Families had the opportunity to learn about community resources.

Learning Journey

A journey needs a destination: Our aspirational statement
We know that relationship building between home and school will need to be a patient and intentional journey to achieve our desired aspiration: To build trust between families, educators and administrators.
Digging deeper into the community: Empathy interviews provided valuable insights
In an interview, a grandparent shared her belief that school was not a safe place or a place to help her granddaughter gain anything positive. In fact, she felt she had to be a presence in the school to help her child feel supported. Yet, she credited the school leadership for caring about her and her grandchild and felt connected to the administration of the school. She was also optimistic that parents who are willing to come together to support their children can find solutions to problems.
A pivot: Our mini-hack brought students to the forefront
The team hosted a scaled down version of the bigger fall hack we intended to stage in the fall. For the mini-hack, we had planned a small group conversation with a handful of parents. The agenda included food, icebreakers, games and then a set of questions about the parents’ experience with the school. In the end only one parent attended, but a handful of students came. The team found it valuable to learn from these young people about what they wanted from their school experience.
The fall hack: Supporting "the village"
Our event happened on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, a few weeks after school began. We wanted to kick off the year on a positive note based on what we had learned from empathy interviews, the mini hack and our team conversations. All the features for a festive outdoor school gathering were brought together: music, food, games and community resources. The location was convenient, in the community not far from the school. A small win was our goal - achieving a sense of community.
Insights: It's not just the students we bring on the learning journey
An empathy interview with a grandparent revealed that her school experience had been spotty. She had disengaged with academics, but not sports. And now, she was central to raising a grandchild who faced problems in school. We understood that there might be reason for her to be uncertain, much less trust, that issues would be resolved. We realize that we deal not only with the matters that students face, but with caregivers who bring their own positive or negative stories.


Pittsburgh Public Schools is the public school district serving the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and adjacent Mount Oliver, Pennsylvania. As of the 2021–2022 school year, the district operates 54 schools with 4,192 employees (2,070 teachers) and 20,350 students. The combined land area served is 55.3 square miles (143 km2), with a population of 309,359.

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