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Family Engagement in Programs and Schools: Parent, Educator, and Community Leader Perspectives

Thu, March 21, 12:30 to 1:45pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Higher levels of family engagement reveal large associations between family engagement and success for students. Family and peer experiences are significant predictors of cognitive skills, social-emotional skills, such as motivation, attention, impulse control, and self-confidence. Higher levels of family engagement reveal associations between family engagement and success for students This is particularly true for students at-risk for school failure. The purpose of this study was to explore parent, educator, and community member perspective of family engagement in the schools. Ten semi-structured focus groups were conducted throughout one mid-western state. Analysis of focus group responses was conducted through Excel statistics. All parents participating in focus groups had at least one child either in an early childhood program and/or a kindergarten through grade-12 program. Parents reported having between one and seven children. Children representation by family members ranged in age from ten days to 33 years old. Focus groups were hosted by a variety of locations throughout the state, including rural (3), suburban/small city (2), and urban (5). Focus group size ranged from six participants to fifteen participants. All focus groups were held in high-poverty areas serving high-needs communities, thus all parent participants had at least one child enrolled in a designated “at-risk” program such as Head Start or GSRP or in a high-poverty school district. The range of needs as indicated by focus group members included employment, transportation, and resources such as access to grocery stores and medical care. Data collected from participants included perceptions of what family engagement means to them, as well as activities for families, schools, and communities to foster engagement and support of learner outcomes. Several themes emerged through focus groups, including the importance of relationships, inclusive opportunities, communication, parent education, and family activities within the school. Relationships were the primary theme in supporting family engagement. One focus group parent emphasized the importance of relationships by stating, “nothing about us without us.” Relations were woven throughout all focus groups as an essential element in supporting family engagement. Relative to relationship, inclusive activities and communication strongly prevailed as essential elements supporting family engagement. Activities for children and families support child outcomes and adult learning in the context of their child’s development. We include implications for policy and program development at the national, state, and local levels, including an increase in parent education programs across the birth- through grade-12 continuum, improved cultural and socio-emotional competencies, and supporting parents as advocates in their child’s education.

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