We needed to think about family-school engagement at the middle school level differently. This is when parent involvement typically starts to decrease and student needs change. We knew it would be a win for everyone to work together, family and school, more intentionally. This is especially true for students who need extra support. A solid partnership can make a big difference.
We wanted our innovation to set the stage for the year and express to parents our deep interest in their engagement. Everything was planned to create opportunities for conversation, fun together and memorable moments. Top of mind was creating a sense of excitement about the school year and the journey ahead for us all.
The Open House introduced new features like a taco truck, a shaved ice stand and movie theater popcorn (provided at no cost to families). This set the stage for a night of showcasing student work, a fun scavenger hunt, an art-teacher led activity for the family and other activities led by teachers. The night was low stress, fun and collaborative.
Many families reluctant to engage with the school are from a lower SES community and often ill-at-ease at school. It was important for the event to be truly a fun night, no strings attached. Feedback from these families was positive: A small (positive) change in mindset resulted from us doing what we said we would do.
We have repeated the Fall Open House that we introduced last year. This is a big deal for us because historically we'd only had a back-to-school night. It is recognition that a low-barrier meet-and-greet helps us all connect and reconnect more authentically at a time that is often high stress, the start of school.
We've learned from past experience and are also making improvements in how we rollout activities. For example, it is important to survey parents in advance of a night focused on a topic, like social media. Hearing from them first about their ideas and preferences is a step we had missed.
Thinking ahead about individual parents, we want the ownership and the comfort to have conversations rest with the teachers. These are the relationships we really need to nurture.
More than anything, intentionality about family and school engagement is critical. It’s easy to lose sight of this in the day-to-day. Consider the opportunities for parents to productively engage at the middle school level. To do this, having a team that includes school staff and middle school parents is incredibly valuable. What we learn from each other is worth its weight in gold.