As the director of early childhood for Washington County Schools, it has been my goal and the work of our team to create positive and productive working relationships with our families. With all schools in the Washington County School District receiving Family Friendly Schools certification from the Prichard Committee’s Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools in 2022, it was without question that our early childhood centers would pursue this recognition.
Washington County has two elementary schools housing preschool and childcare for three- and four-year-old children. In collaboration with Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSC), these programs collaborate to offer birth to five services through our Basic Training program at both locations. We’ve always worked to serve families and increase parental involvement and education as early as possible. However, by pursuing Family Friendly Schools certification and working to meet the criteria, we understood that family engagement goes beyond our initial goal as it includes families in decision-making in all aspects of our programs.
Once our commitment to pursuing certification was determined, I formed the team for each location: North Washington Early Childhood and Washington County Early Childhood. The teams consisted of preschool teachers, the lead childcare instructor and childcare director, the FRYSC coordinator and two parent representatives that agreed to participate and were representative of the preschool population. I participated on both teams as the Director of Early Childhood for the district.
Principals at each location participated in the first meeting and assisted with the process. This team met three times face to face and exchanged email and text correspondence throughout the year. Once our goals were determined, the teams stepped up to put additional community, school and developmental resources for parents in place on-site, via social media and in printable format. Surveys were sent out multiple times per year to increase parent voice. Staff supported varied modes of communication to families according to preference and had increased awareness of viewing the school experience from the family’s perspective. Even after the goals were determined, additional ideas from team members continued throughout the year and additions or changes were made based on recommendations that helped us improve on the self-assessment rubric.
The goals that our team set added to the natural process we already had in place for wanting to reach families and encourage ongoing two-way communication with increased family engagement throughout the year. Working toward this certification was fluid with current programming efforts to engage, commit and collaborate with not only families but also community shareholders in providing resources and education when needed.
Our most notable additions to programming included Preschool Connect. This was an idea from one of our parent representatives. Preschool Connect is a bi-weekly survey sent to families via their preferred mode of communication that asked them to check all items that applied to their needs for staff to follow up with supports. Items included food assistance, hygiene items, parenting advice/skills and help at home. Through school, FRYSC and community partnerships, family needs were met on a consistent basis. Also offered this year were interventions for families to begin at home over the summer based on developmental screening results and parent networking workshops for students with disabilities.
Future goals to maintaining Family Friendly Schools certification status for the upcoming year include offering developmental screening at our birth-to-five Basic Training program as early as birth, providing the earliest intervention possible for the children in our county, along with increasing advocacy and knowledge of developmental delays and special education services for children, and asking families to share special talents, gifts and funds of knowledge with our classrooms and other families during the day and at family engagement events.
Achieving this certification was not only recognition for our efforts but is now a natural part of our thinking and operating system. Families and caregivers play the most influential role for our children because they are who they love. We understand as educators that it is our focus to assist and help nurture as we provide wraparound supports in the school, home and community while listening to our families and giving them opportunities to fully participate. They need help, we need help, and together we can create a strong support system for overwhelming growth and success.
Washington County Early Childhood believes that we are the key to success for the children in our district. We set the foundation for all future learning and provide the first experience to the school setting. By giving parents and caregivers a larger role as early as possible, family members begin their child’s education with stronger commitment, greater trust and more confidence to establish the foundation for future school partnerships.
Paula Turner is the director of early childhood at Washington County Schools. Two of the early childhood centers in the district – North Washington Early Childhood and Washington County Early Childhood – earned 2023 Family Friendly Schools certification, along with four other schools in the district.