The Shelby County School District has launched a new initiative called the Family Engagement Academy (FEA) to provide families and teacher leaders with opportunities to develop their knowledge and abilities as leaders in order to support student achievement through strong family-school partnerships.
The group held its first meeting on September 15 at Wilsonville Elementary School and will meet again on October 20 at Vincent Elementary. Meetings will also be held later this year at Elvin Hill Elementary, Shelby Elementary, Calera Elementary, Calera Intermediate, and Montevallo Elementary.
“Our belief is we can create positive outcomes in our school communities by providing information, skills, and tools that will assist in increasing the knowledge of families to support the academic achievement of students,” said Dana Martin, School Improvement and Federal Programs Supervisor.
As members of FEA, participants will have the opportunity to learn from educational and business professionals and most significantly, from each other. Parents will have the opportunity to talk with other parents about successes and challenges that everyone faces as they also work to make a difference in their schools. Parents will also learn more about the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) in order to be fully-involved in their children’s educational experience.
“We have intentionally included a cross representation of participants, advisory committee members, and educators,” said Martin. “The advisory committee of this initiative includes parents, teachers, principals, college in-service director, and instructional staff of Shelby County Schools, including the Angela Walker, Professional Development Supervisor, Leah Dobbs-Black, English-as-a-Second Language Supervisor and myself.”
As part of the FEA, parents will participate in a service learning project, which will provide them an opportunity to be engaged and give back to their local schools. The service learning project will be facilitated by teacher leaders at each school and will include both parents and students.
“It can be anything that will benefit the school community,” Martin said about the service learning project. ” It will give the participants a chance to be empowered to be leaders in their community and build confidence to continue to be involved and lead.”
Martin said examples of potential service learning projects are organizing and leading a math workshop to help families understand CCRS math, forming a Welcome Committee for those who are new to the school to acquaint them to the school and community, etc.
“Teachers will connect the project to CCRS standards for the students, making it a real-world learning opportunity for the kids,” said Martin.
Martin said business and community leaders, as well as educators, will conduct each seminar. Teacher leaders will facilitate the service project, as well as the liaison connecting the academy and project to the local school.
The desired outcomes of the Family Engagement Academy are to increase support of students’ academic achievement at school; increase school and community knowledge of the benefits of family engagement; increase participants’ opportunity to share knowledge of school curricula and operations with others; create an appreciation of the successes and challenges experienced by other parents and schools; and to build community in schools and within the community at large.
Long-term goals of the initiative include transferring powerful values from adult to child, including responsibility, empathy, self-worth, and care for others; increasing the likelihood the families will serve the school and communities together; improving the adult’s civic participation and health (including mental health); decreasing adult social isolation, especially in low-income and diverse populations.
In support of these goals, each FEA session will be focused on a specific topic that has been selected by the members of the advisory committee.
“Based on the wealth of research on family engagement and student success, we are seeking to provide our parents with essential information that can help them and other families to be informed members of their local school communities,” said Martin. “In each session, parents will have the opportunity to talk with other families about topics on the agenda and about ways they can take the information learned back to their own school community.”
Because of the emersion of technology in classrooms, the district plans to provide parents with experiences involving technology that will help them assist their child with school work. Parents who attend every FEA session offered will also receive an e-reader device to promote reading in the home.
“We acknowledge and celebrate the fact that within schools and families there are leaders,” Martin said. “Families care about education, but often lack the confidence and tools to be engaged in their child’s education and be leaders in the school community, no matter what socio-economic or ethnic group they represent. We feel our Family Engagement Academy will build their capacity to be vital partners in the school and community and empower them to be actively engaged in their children’s education, helping them reach their highest potential.”