New Multimedia Family Engagement Initiative Targets Student Success in the Classroom
There’s a pile of academic research that shows students do better when parents and guardians are involved in their education, and a new local initiative aims to help families get even more engaged in the learning experience.
The Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) has brought together more than a dozen Sacramento-area public school districts, colleges, universities and education agencies to launch the Family Engagement Forum, a multi-faceted effort to boost family involvement in children’s learning and development in meaningful ways.
For years, many of these academic institutions have worked independently to establish programs and services to support their own students and families. But under SECC’s leadership — and the philosophy that the collaborative whole can be greater than the sum of the parts — these institutions have now banded together to share their best practices more broadly throughout the greater Sacramento region.
Beginning this September, SECC — which produces Sacramento Comcast’s channels 15 and 16 — will premiere on cable and stream online a weekly block of valuable school- and education-related videos aimed at parents and others to help them help their students succeed in school. The various educational outlets will produce and contribute most of the video programming to the venture.
“I think it is quite honestly a genius idea,” says Ryan Miranda, program coordinator for the Center Joint Unified School District’s Family Resource Center and the District’s homeless and foster student liaison. “With people looking at social media on their screens these days, if we can’t get parents to come to us, then why don’t we go to them via a TV screen or the media?”
Miranda has been among those who have been meeting regularly as the SECC-sponsored Family Engagement Forum, representing their districts and other academic organizations that are looking for ways to complement their respective family outreach, engagement and educational efforts. It was at these meetings that the Forum members decided on a weekly block schedule that they — the family engagement representatives — will program.
“We are all doing our own work, in some cases the same work in our silos, on our own little islands,” said Lisset Mijares, coordinator of the Natomas Unified School District’s Parent University. “But giving us a platform to show our work — I think it is amazing we are all in this partnership. Collaborative work is so powerful. I think it is a great idea.”
The target audience for the videos will extend from the Natomas District’s and the Robla School District’s preschool and early childhood families to Sacramento State’s and the Los Rios Community College District’s students and their parents and families. Videos will cover a wide range of topics, including: how to read a student’s report card; the importance of good attendance; high school graduation and college entrance requirements; how parents can become engaged in school programs and committees; and how to prepare students and parents for the academic and financial challenges of college.
Many of the Sacramento region’s schools and districts are among the state’s and the country’s most diverse, especially as it relates to their students’ and families’ native languages and countries.
To help address such challenges, the Natomas District — with nearly 14,300 students — will be sharing and cablecasting 18 short videos that are in English but with Spanish subtitles.
The considerably smaller Robla School District has about 2,000 students enrolled in five elementary schools and a districtwide pre-school — a population that speaks an astounding 20 different languages. To help as many as possible in their native language, the District will help highlight its team of full-time community outreach assistants.
“Their main responsibility is to connect with families, to help with translations, to help build relationships,” said Robla Superintendent Ruben Reyes. “They speak Spanish, Hmong, Russian, and we have assistants specifically designated for the African American community — whatever it takes to connect with the families, including advocating for families at meetings and in other ways.”
Because of the Robla District’s smaller size, smaller budget and unique multicultural challenges, Reyes sees SECC’s Family Engagement Forum as particularly important and valuable to his community:
“Some school districts have whole departments of parent engagement, so for us being able to talk with other districts allows us to consider other ways of doing things and to learn from the success and errors of others — but also to share our successes.”
Indeed, at the other end of the size spectrum is the massive Sacramento City Unified School District, which serves more than 43,000 students on 77 campuses spanning 70 square miles.
And Sacramento City Unified does in fact have its own Family and Community Empowerment Department, led by its supervisor, Sean Alexander.
The Department’s crown jewel is its Parent Leadership Pathway Program, a three-tiered, 60-plus hour training and educational program that, Alexander said, “really is designed to take the most disenfranchised families. We want our parents to really feel comfortable sitting at the table in partnership, discussing their child’s education and the District’s decisions about that education.”
Despite her program’s size and maturity, even Alexander sees benefits on the horizon from the launch of the Family Engagement Forum.
“I think it’s going to spread the word even further,” she said. “The medium of television is [experienced] at home, so many parents will feel more empowered to learn and feel comfortable in their home setting. The more information they get, the more they will take the step to come out to a school site. Any doorway we can access for parents is the right doorway.”
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