Empathy interviews conducted by the team had identified gaps in communication. We realized that we needed to get to know our families better, needed to communicate better and engage with parents in places beyond the school. That was an "ah-ha" moment, understanding that school might not be the place that makes every parent comfortable.
Another ah-ha moment was realizing that our popular community event, Holly Day, would be an ideal place to meet families on common ground and face-to-face. Holly Day takes place at a central location and is easily walkable. This community event is a big draw and provided the opportunity to connect with families in a social way. Our school team had fun activities at our station like snow globe photos. Parents met other parents and met students that they'd heard about from their own children. It was also ideal that caregivers like grandparents met teachers they might only have known about by name. Importantly, students connected with their teachers and took photos with them. In these small ways, the joyfulness of the event lent itself to a memorable experience for all and the chance to encourage richer relationship building on many levels.
Beyond our innovation team, teachers, para-educators and the guidance counselor shared that it was pleasant to talk to families at Holly Day, outside of school and in more relaxed ways. Larger still was a new partnership with the community organizers and the overwhelming sense of community pride that resulted.
The success of Holly Day led us to do another community event in the spring. This low-key 5K race was aligned with our after school fitness club. The aim was to acquaint parents with the club and its activities (and benefits) and to connect with parents whose children weren't involved in spring sports at the time. We conducted the fun run immediately after school at a nearby park to make it easy for children to join and bring their parents.
Understand your community needs first. Then be very intentional about your work. We focused on the question: What is keeping this group of parents from coming to school events? We did empathy interviews and asked: Where are parents showing up and where aren't they - figure out where you have common ground through these conversations and use that information to make connections.