By Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D.
Family engagement in education is a partnership that helps create a positive learning environment and improve academic outcomes. As we observe Family Engagement Month in November, it is a time to reflect on all we can accomplish in working together to provide an equitable educational experience for all students. This underscores the importance of a one team, one journey mantra.
While reasons for family engagement in education may change over the years, its benefits are a constant. In pre-K and kindergarten, family engagement may help in introducing students to a new environment where they can socialize and learn.
Elementary and middle school is filled with transitions and engagement helps in addressing those challenges. During the high school years, family engagement is instrumental in ensuring every student finds their path beyond graduation, whatever that may be.
The importance of family engagement within Alexandria City Public Schools is reflected in our Family and Community Engagement Center. FACE is the only such center in a Northern Virginia school division dedicated to family engagement. It is strategically located at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School on Alexandria’s West End, making it convenient for our diverse and ever-changing community.
FACE is where families, volunteers, children, staff and the community come together to advocate for all ACPS schools and students. At FACE, you can take advantage of family workshops and other learning resources and are provided computer and internet access. Families can also meet with our bilingual family liaisons at the Center.
Our family liaisons serve as cultural brokers between our families, schools and community, building the trust needed for a true partnership. ACPS has four division-wide family liaisons, two Spanish-speaking, one Amharic-speaking and one-Dari speaking, in addition to 10 school-based liaisons. These liaisons help empower our families, making them feel welcome and a valued partner in the learning process with our schools.
ParentSquare, a mass communications platform introduced last year, plays an important role in family engagement. It assists our families through automated translation to communicate with teachers and counselors without language being a barrier. It also centralizes all communications in one space. ParentSquare helps track student absences at the secondary level, informing parents when a student is absent after the first period, after lunch or at the end of the school day.
Family engagement is also the cornerstone of Anne. R. Lipnick Special Education Parent Resource Center. The PRC is instrumental in establishing cooperative partnerships between families and schools for our students with special needs. It also helps families navigate the special education process through its free workshops and training.
The Alexandria Parent Teacher Association Council also promotes meaningful family engagement. PTAC connects 17 PTA units, which enable families to share best practices, resources and financial support. Our PTA’s provide our families the opportunity to take an active role in the school division which helps ensure students’ educational success.
Family engagement is valued for many reasons. It assists ACPS in addressing educational disparities across economics, language and race. It enables the school division to work with our families in a partnership where everyone feels welcome and concerns are addressed and contributions appreciated.
Family engagement opens the lines of communication between our families and schools and our students are the recipients of its rewards. When our schools, staff and families work together as one team, students reap the benefits in terms of improved self-esteem and reducing risky behaviors. We see regular attendance rise along with student achievement and graduation rates.
Family engagement promotes social and emotional development. It helps a child transition from early childhood education to high school graduate and successful adult, moving on to college or a career of their choice. As ACPS’ superintendent, I invite our families, staff and community to come together as one team, on one journey for the advancement of all students.
The writer is superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools.