Schools should roll out the welcome mat for parents

Parent & Family Engagement | 08/07/2015

Ashley Thomas
Family Engagement & Organizing Specialist

Ashley Thomas is the Family Engagement & Organizing Specialist for Stand for Children Indiana.

Parents need to be involved in more than just parent-teacher conferences if we want to ensure that the children in our communities have access to every opportunity to learn.  Who better to support the school than a child’s first and most important teachers: FAMILY? 

According to an expert in family engagement, Dr. Maria C. Paredes, “Parent and family engagement is a critical component in ensuring student achievement and success in school. However, traditional models of parent-teacher interaction (for example, conventional parent-teacher conferences) do not necessarily have a substantial effect on student performance.”

To help improve parent-teacher interaction and student performance, Stand for Children Indiana parent advocates included “a great support system for every parent and guardian” as one of four critical recommendations for the new Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) strategic plan. The recommendations in “Every Child, Every Neighborhood” were presented to Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee and two IPS board members at the end of June.

"As parents we need to know that the doors of our school are welcoming. Our schools are part of our community and, as such, we need to make them a place that is inviting to all. We need to know how to partner with our schools to be certain that our kids are receiving the best possible chance to succeed.” –Graciela Aguilar, IPS Parent

In Indiana, state lawmakers agree that this is a critical factor in a child’s education. Through a unanimous vote in 2013, the Family Friendly Schools designation was created as a way to measure a school’s strength in developing parental, family and community involvement in the education of the children in the school building.

This designation is not required, but I believe this to be a wonderful way for schools at all grade levels to showcase the encouragement of family involvement that I have witnessed within schools, especially in the Indianapolis Public Schools district. According to the Indiana Department of Education, there were two schools within IPS that received this designation last year. None of them were neighborhood schools (non-magnet schools). There are some great schools making impressive strides within this district to gain the designation so I look forward to this number increasing. The deadline is November 6th for schools looking to apply this year.

There are six measured categories for the Family Friendly Schools designation.

1. Welcoming all Families into the School Community                             

IE: How do families feel when they walk in the doors of the school? How are they greeted? Do they feel connected to the staff? Are they offered other opportunities to come into the building like volunteering or chaperoning?

 2. Communicating Effectively

IE: Are the families communicated with about events and important issues that need their attention? How are the lines of communication between families and teachers?

 3. Supporting Student Success- Both school and home have to be connected to make sure that the child has every opportunity to learn

IE: How do the school and families work together to support the academic needs of each child? Are both parties (school and home) partnered to be sure those needs are assessed and met at both home and school? Is the principal sharing academic assessments and academic goals with parents to include them as part of the planning team to meet those goals?

 4. Speaking up for Every Child

IE: Do parents understand how the school system works? Do they understand how their school district operates? Do they understand their rights and responsibilities under state and federal laws? Do they know the resources available to the school and in their community? Are there rules created between families and the school when there are conflicts in order to get to a resolution? Are the parents mobilizing with other education advocates on issues that impact student learning?

 5. Sharing Power

IE: Is there an equally shared responsibility between families and schools around major decisions that affect the children? Are equity issues being addressed? Are parent leaders being trained to facilitate school meetings and events?

6. Collaborating with Community

IE: Are schools organizing support from community partners to meet the needs of the families?

After assessing these six categories, a school could land on any one of three levels for each category:

  • Level 1: Emerging
  • Level 2: Progressing
  • Level 3: Excelling

Parents and community members should ask, “Is my neighborhood school a Family Friendly School?”

More importantly they should focus on,”How can I support my neighborhood school to EXCEL in all categories?”  


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Experts agree that family members can be a major factor in student success. But, only two IPS schools have obtained Family Friendly status. What will it take for others to receive the designation?
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