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Tailgate Party

Piggy-backing on a popular sports event draws families to the school

Our elementary school actively focuses on parent engagement and at the high school level, families are involved in extracurricular activities and athletic boosters. However, there is a major gap in engagement with parents of 7th and 8th grade middle school families. We wanted to create some excitement, interest and inspire common effort.


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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Target group
January 2024
Parents may feel 'lost' when their children begin the middle school journey. We can help by connecting with them and figuring out, together, how to keep everyone informed, safe and learning. Family and school engagement may be more important than ever at this stage.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

Sports are a strong, common interest in our area and are ripe for leveraging. On a night that honored senior football players, we brought families, students, teachers and administrators together in a fun, pre-game “tailgate.” This activity-filled time was an opportunity for us to begin the work of positive bonding and building relationships within the middle school community.

What does your innovation look like in practice?

The tailgate was a bigger version of the earlier mini-hack ice cream social and was paired with a popular event, a football game on senior night. We filled the time before the game for students and families by creating a fun, safe space after school. Because of rain we moved inside to the gym which was alive with organized activity options, from cornhole to dancing. This also took away worry about transportation. It was, however, a struggle to get the families to the event which began an hour earlier than usual. The swag bag we distributed was popular and contained both school and spirit-related items: pencils, pens, folders, a rally towel, lanyard and a small football. Middle school teachers were invited as guests to the event. They had no official duties, but could relax and enjoy the students and the activity. This family event meant younger children could also enjoy being in the company of their older siblings.

How has it been spreading?

Our PAA team is the second one from our school district. Our district’s participation in Parents as Allies began with the elementary school where it was apparent that family and school engagement was creating excitement and new practices. As noted, middle school is another level of challenge and we have every reason to make family and school engagement a priority. Our elementary and secondary teams have not currently joined forces, although a member of the PAA elementary team attended the tailgate to help the middle school team. In terms of potential for deepening connection, the two teams share a highly committed parent co-lead.

Practice-wise, we will continue to host the tailgate party and host monthly tailgate events after school, with transportation support from the activity bus.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

A good place to start is bringing together a team that joins school and family – teachers, admin and parents. Their work together to identify and address local needs goes a long way toward creating awareness, gaining valuable experience and growing the skill to identify, implement and sustain a family and school engagement agenda.

Spread of the innovation

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