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Community Forum Discusses Successful Strategies for Family Engagement

Speaker Anne Henderson listens to educators and parent and community leaders at a forum tonight in Rocky Hill.

Presenter Anne Henderson, standing, invites input from educators and parent and community leaders at a forum tonight in Rocky Hill.

Successfully engaging families and communities is one of the most important means schools have of ensuring student success, yet people frequently don’t make community engagement the priority it deserves to be, and that needs to change. That was the message Anne T. Henderson, co-author of Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family/School Partnerships, had for teachers and community members at a forum tonight in Rocky Hill.

According to Henderson’s definition, successful parent engagement isn’t simply about recruiting parents for fundraisers or holding parenting workshops — instead the key is building meaningful relationships.

Schools succeed when they truly partner with families and recognize that they can’t help all students achieve without family support. “How can we be more intentional about our relationship building?” she asked participants.

Henderson said that school events for families can sometimes turn into purely informational affairs. She encouraged the educators and parent leaders present to rethink some of those events to instead emphasize relationship building.

In addition to relationships, giving parents more information is also crucial to a successful school-home partnership, according to Henderson. Caregivers need to understand what their child is learning at school and how to support that learning at home. Henderson emphasized that families want to know how to read aloud effectively and ask their children questions about a text, rather than simply being told to read to their children for 20 minutes.

Tonight’s forum, titled, Welcoming Schools: How to have effective two-way communications, was the first in a series of community forums sponsored by CEA, American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, Connecticut Parent Teacher Student Association, Connecticut State Department of Education/School-Family-Community Partnerships Department, Connecticut Federation of School Administrators, Connecticut National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, and the Urban League of Greater Hartford.

In addition to Henderson’s speech the forum included discussion sessions for participants. New Haven parent Veronica Marion said she found her son’s school welcoming, but emphasized that welcoming schools “don’t happen by accident, they take work.”

Dozens of parents, teachers, and community members rolled up their sleeves and got to work tonight to enhance community outreach efforts and promote meaningful parental involvement.

West Hartford high school teacher Thomas Devine attended to learn new strategies. “We are fortunate in West Hartford to have robust parent involvement, but we continually ask ourselves, ‘is the model still right?'”

Connecticut Parent Teacher Student Association President Don Romoser said his organization is focused on “advancing welcoming schools.” He said, “Knowing what happens in your child’s life is critical, but too many people don’t know.”

Connecticut Association of Boards of Education President Bob Rader echoed that sentiment. His wife is a high school teacher who is at her school’s parent night tonight. “No one will probably show up,” he said, pointing to the challenges that teachers face.

Watch video of the forum here or below.

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