Engaging parents and families is an essential part of running a successful summer program. This week, as part of a series of monthly workshops, 25 summer program providers came together to learn best practices in family engagement from experts and each other. An expert panel made up of Dr. Dione Christy, from BPS Office of Engagement, Dr. Elena Lopez, of the Harvard Family Research Project, and Jeff Rosenberg, from Crosby Marketing, shared their research and background with the group.
So, why is parent and family engagement so important? Working with families to connect them to youth’s learning gives programs a chance to understand a program’s vision and mission and a chance to connect deeper with families to determine their role in the youth’s learning. As Dr. Lopez stated, “Families are partners to help you.” The panelists reminded programs that it’s important to make sure they are culturally sensitive and understand each family’s aspirations for their children.
A challenge in family engagement for many programs is how to measure their effectiveness, and report their efforts back to funders. The panel suggested that programs invite funders to their program to observe staff interactions with families. Allowing funders to see the varied opportunities for engagement the program pursues can help educate them and highlight your efforts. Internally, programs should be sure to create a plan of action that addresses what success looks like and sets standards for accountability to keep track of their own efforts.
In addition, trying non-traditional forms of engagement can often uncover the best way reach parents. Dr. Christy urged programs to be tenacious, to continue to reach out to parents in new ways and with new opportunities. Schools, programs and families can work together to create shared vision and goals to help youth reach their goals.
Programs were able to share their challenges with each other – from working with families with many different languages to fitting their program’s outreach into a larger organizational strategy- and get possible solutions from their peers. Courageous Sailing and Sociedad Latina both shared their engagement strategies and struggles with the group. Getting parents as engaged in the summer as they are during the academic year can be a struggle for many programs. A key element is getting youth to feel engaged and connected to the program to demonstrate the importance of participating to their parents.
Want to learn more? Check out some of the research from the Harvard Family Research Project,http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/publications-series/family-involvement-makes-a-difference
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