I’m still thinking through the difficulties of how to synthesize and codify the work around family and community engagement in a way that is useful to teachers, administrators, and school districts, and that is meaningful, inclusive, and respectful to the families and communities served by our nation’s public schools, particularly socioeconomically vulnerable students and students of color. In researching the topic, I’ve come across a number of interesting articles that provide insight into my problem.
Here are a few of them.
Andre Perry writes for the Hechinger Report about the challenges of reintegrating charters from New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD) into the Orleans Parish School District. Most notably, he shares how so-called philanthropists and large charter donors/funders use their money and influence to circumvent the input and oversight of the families and communities served by some charters. This is of particular interest to me as the voters of Georgia will consider creating an Opportunity School District (OSD), which is essentially a clone of other state “turnaround” and “takeover” districts. Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has already begun outsourcing the operations of several of its schools to non-profits and charter management organizations in an attempt to stave off state takeover. I wonder how these organizations and the Governor’s proposed OSD will navigate family and community engagement…or if that is even a concern of theirs at this point.
In thinking about family and community engagement (FCE), I can’t help but think about how our schools are still segregated along the lines of race and class. Even in Atlanta, one of the seats of the civil rights movement, there are still “White schools” and “Black schools”. In another Hechinger Report article, Jackie Mader writes about how one Mississippi school district dealt with segregation since the 1970s. The district in question, Clinton Public Schools, doesn’t separate kids by neighborhoods, which invariably fall along racial and socioeconomic lines. The district sorts students by grade level, essentially creating diverse early primary, elementary, and secondary academies. The article points out that the mastermind behind the structure of the district met with community groups to sell the idea of building multiple “one-room school houses” in order to fully integrate the schools in the district. The integration of the system was not without its challenges, but Virgil Belue who was Superintendent at the time, found ways to make his plan work. John King of the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) is currently trying to figure out ways to tackle the fact that so many of America’s schools remain segregated. Perhaps he should start with a conversation with Virgil Belue to figure out how to bring different families and communities together under one roof.
An article in EdWeek written by Caralee J. Adams, posted last October, addresses how parents are enlisted to bridge the cultural gap between teachers and their students. My favorite take-away from the article is as follows:
… instead of traditional, one-way activities that aim to “fix parents,” such as lecturing parents at Back-to-School Nights, schools need to reach out to families and help them navigate schools. “Parents know when a school looks down on them,” …The key is to change the relationship from one of distrust to one of respect and collaboration. “We are moving from thinking of parents as the problem to parents as partners.”
Another significant takeaway is this…
This year Mt. Rainier will begin a six-week story-quilt activity where parents are given different prompts (such as to talk about their first paycheck or a time when they got in trouble) and then share their experiences as they make a quilt together. They also discuss challenges in the school and begin to do some community organizing, finding power working in a collective.
“It’s based on the idea that we build meaningful relationships by sharing our stories,” said Allyson Criner Brown, an associate director of Teaching for Change, in Washington. Teachers and principals are also encouraged to take part. “We are trying to address the power dynamics in the room and looking for where there may be differences, and biases and structures that may be putting up barriers.”
The article is part of a series of pieces addressing discrimination against students and their families. I’ll be spending some time with the entire series as I try to work my way through this problem. However, after reading the article I’ve referenced above, I’m already excited about what I’ll learn.
The long and the short of it is, there are folks out there doing the work around FCE on various fronts. I’m not really satisfied with the USDOE FCE framework because the language listed in one of the first resources listed in the framework is aimed at “fixing” parents, an approach which is paternalistic, racist, sexist, and classist.
I hope you’ll stick around for the ride as I try to find a way to synthesize the work being done in the classrooms and in the academy around what works for family and community engagement.
As always, thank you for reading, pardon the typos, and the comments section is always open.