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Woodland Hills School District

Implementation of Kindergarten Fall Festival

Parents as Allies







Target group
January 2024
Start simple and small, and let it grow from there. It is overwhelming to start thinking too big too soon. It is also important to bring teachers into the planning early on. They are essential to success.

About the implementation

We wanted to engage our transient population and keep students and families in our district rather than seeing them leave for a charter school or another school district. Our focus was on kindergarten students and their families and engaging them early on in their school journeys. There are three elementary schools in our district so we held our events at common, neutral sites.

What did you do in practice?

A survey for families who were new to the district was first and asked about their transition to school. For example, did they get the info they needed, did they feel welcomed? It was overwhelming to try and reach all new families so we went smaller and focused instead on families who had children transitioning into kindergarten. This led to the Kindergarten Fall Festival that involved families from our three elementary schools. We followed with a Story Walk in the spring, inviting current Kindergarteners and in-coming kindergarten families with the aim of creating a sense of "oneness".

Why did you do this implementation trial?

We did these implementation trials because school is so much more than just academics. The non-academic part of school life is very important because it's about being part of the larger COMMUNITY. We want our children to have friends, a connection with the teacher and others in their school lives. That is what we hope for them — to not just get a great academic education but connection to the school life around them.


At the fall festival we had a lot of staff from two of the school buildings but not all three. We learned that we needed to bring teachers into the planning earlier. The spring story walk was to be outside but it rained so we moved inside to the gym. The stations were run by the parents and teachers and we had “celebrity” readers and fun guests. Despite some problems, there were many positives!

There were ongoing positive vibes from the event.
Teachers liked not having to plan but just being able to show up and have fun.
Kids were excited, had lots of thank you’s and asked when the next event would happen.
Members of our parent organization attended and brought their families.
There was positive word-of-mouth afterwards at parent and teacher conferences.
When planning, every kindergarten teacher was asked for their ideas.

Learning Journey

Empathy Interviews
We began with "empathy interviews" that brought a teacher into conversation with a parent, and a parent with a school person. These helped us see the error of some of our assumptions and that teachers and parents shared many viewpoints. We learned that parents want to build trust and build connections with other parents, want to feel a connection beyond social media and that the teachers and the administrators want to know that everyone is functioning as a community and making friends.
Aspiration Statement
Our team wanted to create better communication between parents and teachers and more time to intentionally connect. With this, we chose this as our aspirational statement: "Create opportunities for engagement between educators, parents and students."
Hack: Listening to Our Most Vulnerable Families
We wanted to learn from our transient families in our school district. Two example questions were: (1) In what areas could you have been provided with more information? Some of the options were bus/transportation, the attendance policy, mental health/special supports; (2) Did you feel welcomed to your new school by each of the following: the secretary, the principal, the classroom teacher? The data we received back helped us understand how to better communicate with parents.
Hack: Family Engagement Event
We experimented with a family engagement event at one of the local fire departments, a neutral site instead of one of our three elementary schools. We invited all kindergarten students and their families to convey: we’re all in this together. Fire fighters served as a community presence and engaged children with the setting and equipment. People socialized, there was food and games and a large banner said Class of 2035. It was signed by the kindergarten students as a concrete sign of unity.
Reflection from Parents
Said a parent, "The parents do really care that the district succeeds. We want our kids to be proud alums.” A parent was excited to experience two-way conversation and emphasized, "It completely changed everything for me." Once the teachers figured out what this was all about, they wanted to be a part of it. Likewise, the Parents as Allies team is still intact and the team has grown. “It’s so nice to have a working group of people willing to help," added a school administrator.
Next Steps: Building More Support
To get to the next level, we recognize there is trust that needs to be repaired in the community. With more centralized school support, it would be great to see what has been built with the younger grades, sustained. Going forward, we want more communication with families and to give teachers the time for meaningful conversations with parents. We're also looking beyond big events to small, low budget things. And we want the time to talk with and learn from other schools about what they're doing.


The Woodland Hills School District located approximately eight miles east of the City of Pittsburgh. The school district covers 13-1/2 square miles and includes the communities of Braddock, Braddock Hills, Chalfant, Churchill, East Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Forest Hills, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek and Wilkins Township. The fall event was held at the Wilkins Twp. Volunteer Fire Company #3.

Dickson Preparatory Steam Academy
Woodland Hills School District