The Critical Importance of Community Engagement in Schools

Written by Tami Barlow

On August 18, 2017

Research has demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly that parental and community involvement in schools leads to improved academic and behavioral outcomes for the children.

One study found that family participation in education was twice as predictive of students’ academic success as family socioeconomic status. Some of the more intensive programs had effects that were 10 times greater than other factors.

So what does family and community involvement entail?

The federal No Child Left Behind Act defines parental involvement as “the participation of parents in regu­lar, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities.”

Research generally suggests that robust community collaboration must offer a broad range of school, family, and community activities designed ultimately to support student success. Successful school-parent-community partnerships are not siloed; they are integrated into the everyday work of the school.

Barriers to Success

Many parents complain that schools’ community engagement practices don’t address their real life issues. They point to time and transportation issues that limit their ability to participate in activities. They acknowledge discomfort communicating with educators who don’t share their experiences or speak in language they don’t understand. Some are frustrated with school bureaucracies and believe the schools only communicate when there is a problem. These roadblocks must be taken into consideration when designing school-community activities.

Charleston Promise Neighborhood (CPN) is totally committed to vigorous community involvement in decision-making around its policies and programs. The organization believes that no one is more important in the lives of children than their parents.

At its inception, Charleston Promise Neighborhood created a Community Engagement Council to enhance community involvement in the schools. Everyone in the neighborhood is invited to serve on the council, whose proposals have been adopted by CPN.

Most notably, the very successful YouthPromise initiative was developed by the Community Engagement Council and implemented by CPN.

In partnership with neighborhood residents, Charleston Promise Neighborhood offers a series of programs to strengthen the family unit, engage community residents in CPN’s work, give families a chance to explore concepts together, and provide resources and trainings that community residents might need to transform their community. They include health literacy workshops, family engagement nights and on-site school events and activities.

Family Engagement Nights

Based on the success of the Charleston Promise Neighborhood’s wildly popular 2015 Family Science Night series, which was hosted at Mary Ford Elementary in partnership with The Boeing Company, CPN surveyed participating families about their interest in expanding family engagement nights.  Families expressed interest in continuing the programming and suggested CPN consider differing themes.

In response to this data, CPN assembled a planning team of staff members, volunteer parent leaders, and school leadership, and sought feedback from principals to design and produce the subsequent series.

Department of Energy sponsorship will help cover the costs of hosting family engagement nights during the 2017-18 school year.  Co-designed and executed by volunteer parent leaders, they will focus on the themes of science, literacy and health, and will provide parents and caregivers the opportunity to learn new concepts and life skills, through hands-on activities and active learning.

With empirical evidence so clearly supporting healthy parental and community involvement in schools, Charleston Promise Neighborhood will remain committed to bringing school involvement opportunities into the community. It is one aspect of the plan to achieve transformation within a generation.