Does your school host a back-to-school night where families can not only interact with their student’s soon-to-be teacher, but also receive helpful information and resources from community partners? Do you have a dedicated space in your school for families and community partners to connect with school staff and other families? Do you host family nights for caregivers to come to the school to gain insight into how they can support their student’s learning? Does your school encourage families to serve in leadership roles?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you should consider applying for the Prichard Committee’s Family Friendly Schools certification. As a school that just received the designation, East Bernstadt Independent is thrilled to be recognized for the work we’ve done to build a family-friendly environment, and also look forward to offering more opportunities and improvements that will sustain this culture year after year.
My name is Reghan Hedrick, and I am the GEAR UP College and Career Navigator (CCN) at East Bernstadt Independent School District in Laurel County. My mission as a CCN is to help prepare students for life after high school. Through the GEAR UP program, I am able to bring in speakers and presentations, engage students in real-life budgeting and planning simulations, connect students and families with financial literacy tools, and provide opportunities for exploring postsecondary education options. The nature of my job is inherently family-friendly, so when my GEAR UP program director encouraged our district to apply for the certification, it was a no-brainer.
First, our principal established a committee including herself, myself, parents, my GEAR UP counterpart, a teacher and our Family Resource Youth Services Center (FRYSC) coordinator. We all completed the online training, which consists of two modules that are broken down into 5-20 minute chunks, making it an easily-digestible format that you can complete at your own pace. In total, the online training is three hours, and the Kentucky Collaborative for Families and Schools provides an interactive Family Engagement Digital Playbook to help you follow along with the training, take notes and brainstorm ideas along the way.
After the training, each member answered and submitted a proof of completion survey, along with a self-assessment. The Family and School Partnership Self-Assessment is the key tool that distinguishes whether or not a school is ready to apply for the certification. On a scale of 0-4, each member ranks the critical attributes that make up the five family engagement objectives: Relationship Building, Communications, Shared Responsibility, Advocacy and Community Partnerships.
For example, underneath Shared Responsibility is a critical attribute titled Honoring Funds of Knowledge. The baseline Level 1 example is: “Teachers contact parents/guardians for information about their child when there are concerns about learning, behavior, or wellbeing.” If you score a 0, it means your school is “not there yet,” whereas a score of 4 means, “teachers and building leaders create processes to partner with families to share their strengths, talents, and cultures at school and/or in the classroom.”
Once everyone completed the training and self-assessment, we came together as a committee and went through our scores. In my opinion, this was the most eye-opening and beneficial experience of the certification process, because it gave us the opportunity to hear different perspectives about the school’s culture. We spent more than two hours talking about areas of strength and weaknesses as well as brainstorming ways to improve. We came to a mutual agreement that our score was high enough to proceed with the application process.
Over the next month or so, we gathered all of our evidence and put it down on paper (well, multiple Google Docs, actually). This was daunting at first, but I kept hearing our GEAR UP program manager for family engagement’s voice in the back of my head saying, “You are already doing this stuff – just apply!” We created a Google Doc for every objective and gave examples with detailed descriptions of how we met certain critical attributes. We included links to flyers, agendas, photos, surveys, newsletters and more to help support our evidence.
Finally, we finished and submitted our application package. In less than a month we were awarded the Family Friendly Certification! The advisory committee gave us feedback on our application and the Prichard Committee provided digital assets for use in promoting our new designation.
Even though our school was awarded the Family Friendly Schools certification, there is always room for improvement. This is one important aspect of the application process: You must look at your shortcomings and have a continuous improvement plan in place. We have some exciting family engagement opportunities in the works for the upcoming school year, and I can’t wait to see how they impact the students and families we serve.
Reghan Hedrick is the GEAR UP College and Career Navigator (CCN) at East Bernstadt Independent School District in Laurel County.