By Melanie Kay-Wyatt, ED.D.
Educating Alexandria’s students is a shared responsibility of families and schools. But there is no doubt that when families are involved in the education process, the attitudes, behaviors and achievement of students are postively enhanced. In November, we celebrate Family Engagement Month in Virginia, presenting the opportunity for us to highlight the irrefutable benefits of family engagement to student outcomes. Prioritizing school-family partnerships in Alexandria City Public Schools continues to be a part of our approach to address educational disparities across race, language, economics and other differences.
The diversity of our school division makes family engagement critical because of the role it plays in helping families from all backgrounds feel welcomed, respected and valued as partners in their child’s education.
As ACPS’ interim superintendent, I would like to invite our families to utilize division resources that serve to enhance family engagement. Our Family and Community Engagement team works to strengthen family-school partnerships and increase two-way communication, cultural understanding and academic achievement as it eliminates barriers to family engagement. As our new FACE center officially opens this month, it will further connect ACPS families to the information and services that support educational achievement and overall quality of life. The FACE team engages families in meaningful opportunities designed to support student academic success and healthy social and emotional development.
Family engagement is also the driving force within The Anne R. Lipnick Special Education Parent Resource Center, as it assists families to become partners in their child’s education. Focusing on the student’s needs, PRC promotes training families to be advocates for their child. PRC provides a community connection for families as it fosters the understanding of the special education process. Its Family Engagement Series workshops can be accessed in multiple languages and help to establish cooperative partnerships between families and schools.
Our language specific and bilingual family liaisons enable ACPS to best serve its Amharic, Arabic and Spanish speaking families, building relationships and connecting them with staff as they also serve as cultural brokers for the division.
As many of our school-based family liaisons are bilingual and immigrants themselves, this assists the division in establishing authentic relationships as the foundation of our work with families and the community.
There are also a myriad of ways in which families can make a difference in their child’s educational outcome. This includes supporting at-home learning, scheduling parent-teacher conferences and calls, attending school activities and taking part in family surveys. I also urge families to stay informed through ParentSquare and to activate their PowerSchool account to remain up-to-date on student progress and attendance. You can also connect with your child’s school by volunteering.
Our PTA groups help strengthen the connection between school and home and offer inclusive programs that embrace diverse perspectives. There are also other school-based groups such as Padres-Activos to join. Another option for families to lend their perspective is by joining an Alexandria City School Board advisory group, including language-specific committees.
The benefits of family engagement materialize in various ways. For families, it leads to increased trust in the school division and its staff, along with added confidence in school-related decision making. It provides a better understanding of school curriculum and an increased capacity to advocate for students. Family engagement in our 18 ACPS schools further opens channels of communication and the understanding of student/family cultures that can lead to enriched curricular activities. Engagement lends itself to more meaningful school to home relationships and increased community support. For school staff, this makes for higher morale and job satisfaction.
Experience has proven that when families are engaged in their child’s education, school attendance increases along with student achievement and graduation rates. In addition, students develop better social skills, reduce risky behaviors and their self-esteem improves. Family engagement can truly be transformative as it aligns with the principles of the ACPS Strategic Plan to assist in providing an inclusive learning environment that embraces diverse perspectives. I am proud of the work of our FACE and PRC teams that illustrate daily our commitment to keeping racial equity at the heart of our work.
The author is the interim superintendent of Alexandria Public Schools.