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West Allegheny School District

Implementation of Dinner & Dialogues

Parental Engagement





Target group
January 2024
Find a strong group of committed, like-minded, like-hearted people. They have to know and understand how important this work is, especially if you’re working with a marginalized group. Together you will be able to accomplish great things for others.

About the implementation

With new families moving into our community, we wanted to offer school support, make connections, and build trusting relationships. Many of our families did not speak English. We needed to find new and equitable ways to engage them. Once we did meet through new events and by way of providing resources, they communicated feeling cared for, valued, and welcomed by the school.

What did you do in practice?

We hosted several events from "Dinner & Dialogues" to a resource night called "Love Grows Here." These informal events helped our English Language Learner families connect with the teachers and school staff. It gave them access to a variety of resources. In addition, we hosted a series of English as a Second Language classes for parents. Our families requested this because they wanted to be able communicate with their children's teachers. We helped families access the English course and provided childcare and homework help while they participated.

Why did you do this implementation trial?

Our school community demographics are changing. We saw an increased number of immigrant and refugee families moving into our district. It was important for us to welcome the new families and ensure they had the support and resources they needed to be successful. We started by asking about their hopes, fears, and dreams and learned about their culture and language. We asked – what do you need, instead of assuming that we knew. It important to us that our new families feel like part of the bigger school community. We want to make sure they have a voice at our table.


We learned from each family-school engagement strategy. Each activity or event helped us deepen our relationship with parents. We learned about uncommon measures and realized that even the smallest acts of relationship building are key to developing long-term trust. Families shared they felt excited about school, instead of feeling fearful like they had when they first moved into district.

The ELL families helped us gain a deeper understanding of their needs.
At "Dinner & Dialogues," parents felt comfortable to approach the open mic and share their dreams.
We had nearly 100 parents, teachers & staff and students attend Dinner & Dialogues.
15 parents committed to the ESL adult course provided at the school.
Parents' comfort level about talking to teachers increased through the language app.
The student "Equity Scholar Panel" reached out to ELL students with an invite to join them.

Learning Journey

Empathy Interviews
During our empathy interviews, our team of parents, teachers and administrators heard loudly that parents wanted to have a meaningful connection to the school community and teachers. They hope their children are strong emotionally, have communicative abilities and are moral and empathic leaders. On another note, we learned there was a need to streamline communication, in particular for families new to the district or for whom language was a particularly big barrier.
Aspirational Statement
With our English Language Learner students and families in mind, our team decided on this aspirational statement to guide our family-school engagement work: "We will create opportunities for engagement in ways that are responsive to diverse languages, culture, race, socio-economic, and gender backgrounds." Our goal was to create an inclusive community and welcoming environment for our students and for their parents and families.
Mini Hack: School Tour Questions
To gather more information to help inform our family-school engagement strategies, we used an already planned tour for ELL families to ask questions. We asked: What are your fears? What are your hopes? What are your needs? How are you coming to us? Not surprising, the hopes and fears shared were common amongst parents. What was surprising was a need for better communication between teachers and parents given language barriers and resources for ELL parents to improve their English.
Hack: Dinner and Dialogues
Our team planned a "Dinner and Dialogues" event for our ELL families. Parents, students and school staff enjoyed eating together. We catered the dinner with food that represented the different cultures of our families. We learned a dance from India with the help of our music teacher. Then, students joined older ELL students for an activity which gave the adults a chance to more personally connect. Through a "bullseye exercise," we asked various questions to learn what we could do better.
The Bullseye Activity
In these conversations, we asked our ELL parents to educate us: How effectively was the school communicating with their family? How comfortable were they at our school? Parents shared there was lots of communication from their ESL teacher but they were missing a connection with their child's primary teacher. Understandably, they wanted to know how their child was doing academically, socially/emotionally, were their children saying anything (in any language), were they smiling? Making friends?
Overcoming Language Barriers
We needed to overcome the language barriers that ELL parents were experiencing. We used the Talking Points app which allowed parents to text to us in their home language and translate the message in English for the school. We expanded the communication circle that had only included the parent and the ESL teacher to include all teachers, staff, and the principal. Families shared they felt heard, more comfortable reaching out to us and more engaged in their child's education.
Another Hack: Love Grows Here
For Valentine's Day, we held a gathering featuring desserts from around the world and resources requested by ELL parents. We had the technology department help parents download and use school apps, create a login and complete important school forms. The PTA and related arts teachers provided translated information and photos of the different annual events held at the school. This helped families to better understand what happens at events like BINGO Night and our Arts Alive.
Hearing Our Parents's Request: ESL Classes
We learned there was a lack of affordable resources for families to learn how to speak English. With that in mind, the school provided an English language course and materials and paid for everything except for a nominal commitment fee of $20 from the parents. We held the classes at our school which was now a familiar place to our ELL families. We also provided babysitting through our high school ESL students in an effort to remove all barriers for participation.
We learned our ESL families appreciated the space we created for safe conversations. They wanted to share but didn't know how. We also learned it was important for ESL families to connect and develop relationships with each other. They didn’t realize there was a community of ESL families and if they had known this, they would have attended more events. By keeping the group small and creating a safe space, it allowed us to really understand the experiences of our families and develop trust.


West Allegheny School District is conveniently located 15 miles west of the heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and six miles from the Pittsburgh International Airport. West Allegheny serves the beautiful and diverse communities of Findlay and North Fayette Townships and Oakdale Borough within the Allegheny County borders.

West Allegheny School District