The Shelby County School District held its first graduation for the inaugural class of the Family Engagement Academy (FEA) on Tuesday, December 15 at Elvin Hill Elementary from 8:30-10:30 a.m.
These 42 parent graduates are part of the first cohort group to complete the Family Engagement Academy, a new initiative implemented by Shelby County Schools 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 first cohort included parents from Vincent Elementary, Wilsonville Elementary, Elvin Hill Elementary and Shelby Elementary.
The parents attended a total of four meetings that were held September 15 at Wilsonville Elementary School, October 20 at Vincent Elementary, November 17 at Shelby Elementary, and December 15 at Elvin Hill Elementary. A second cohort, which will include parents from Calera Elementary, Calera Intermediate, and Montevallo Elementary schools, is scheduled to participate in sessions January, February, and March.
“We acknowledge and celebrate the fact that within schools and families there are leaders,”said Dana Martin, School Improvement and Federal Programs Supervisor. “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 socioeconomic or ethnic group they represent. We feel our Family Engagement Academy builds their capacity to be vital partners in the school and community and empowers them to be actively engaged in their children’s education, helping them reach their highest potential.”
Twenty-six of the graduates from the first cohort received an electronic reader tablet device for having perfect attendance at all four sessions and for participating in a service learning project that was designed to provide parents with an opportunity to be engaged and give back to their local schools. The service learning projects were facilitated by teacher leaders at each school and included both parents and students.
During the graduation event, Martin asked a representative from each of the four schools to share information about each of the service learning projects. Some of the project ideas included forming a marketing/advertising committee to help promote school activities; planning an upcoming “Soup-er” Bowl party/dinner event that will include educational activities for parents and students; and creating an Engagement Book that highlights various ways that parents can be more involved and engaged in school related activities.
Elvin Hill Elementary parent Alice Fox said the she hopes the Engagement Book will help to increase parental involvement at the school to the same level it is in the community.
“We have very active and involved parents in our community,” Fox said. “We want to share resources with them so they will feel comfortable being as involved at the school.”
Martin said she was encouraged the participants of the FEA are becoming more engaged and involved in their local schools.
“You have just warmed my heart,” Martin told the participants following their service learning project presentations. “That was one of our main goals in doing this initiative. We wanted to see you get plugged in at your local schools and be actively involved.”
Because of the immersion of technology in classrooms, the district provided parents with experiences involving technology that will help them assist their child with school work. This included technology training that was held during the last session for the parents who received e-reader tablets to promote reading in the home. The training was conducted by the Shelby County Technology Resources Teachers and included a tutorial on the new e-reader tablets, including various educational apps and games that can be used with their children.
As members of the Family Engagement Academy, participants had the opportunity over the past four months to learn from educational and business professionals and most significantly, from each other. They were able to share with each other the successes and challenges that everyone faces as they also work to make a difference in their schools. Parents also learned more about the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) in order to be fully-involved in their children’s educational experience.
At the final graduation meeting, participants also got to attend a community resource vendor fair. Parents were able to visit with representatives from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Community Outreach Division, Family Connect, Shelby Emergency Assistance, Department of Human Resources, and the United Way.
“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 Martin.
Martin said the district intentionally included a cross representation of participants, advisory committee members, and educators when developing the initiative. The advisory committee included parents, teachers, principals, a college in-service director, and instructional staff of Shelby County Schools. Business and community leaders, as well as educators, have conducted the sessions. Teacher leaders facilitated the service project and served 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.
“Based on the wealth of research on family engagement and student success, we sought 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 have had 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.”