Increasing Community Involvement Focus of New Program in East Hartford
Effectively engaging parents and community members is a challenge for many schools, but it’s one that Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford is eager to take on. Thanks to a new program in place this year, the school is reaching out to families to find out what they want from the school community and provide them with new resources and services.
O’Brien, an elementary school with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) focus for grades four to six, was named a Network School this year. One goal the school has chosen to work on as part of its Network plan is increasing family and community engagement.
To help achieve that goal, the school has chosen to join the CommPACT Community Schools Collaborative. CommPACT — which stands for Community, Parents, Administrators, Children, and Teachers — provides resources, materials, and technical assistance to guide the establishment of community schools.
CommPACT is run by a board of directors that includes CEA and other education stakeholder groups. It has been successful in several Connecticut schools over the last six years — empowering parent and community voices to get involved and make positive changes. Most recently CommPACT has transitioned into a new initiative with a defined focus on community school resources, and is one approach that Network Schools can select for their turnaround plans.
“Education starts at home, and this program will allow parents to have an essential role in what is happening in their children’s school,” said literacy coach and Family Engagement Committee Co-Chair Kara Levenduski.
The CommPACT process was fully launched at O’Brien recently when students, parents, community members, teachers, and administrators came together for a pasta dinner and to discuss what they want for their school community.
They started with small group discussions before sharing ideas with the entire group, and then posting them to the wall for everyone to see. Hopes for the future ranged from Spanish and English language programs to a community garden to making the school a more welcoming environment.
CommPACT Director Michele Femc-Bagwell said that the process is about “incorporating and embracing all stakeholders’ visions.”
A family engagement cadre made up of parents and teachers is being formed to look at all of the ideas voiced by community members. Their suggestions will be turned into a vision statement and action plan. The cadre will also survey families to better ascertain what resources and programs would best meet their needs.
Pricipal Lesley Morgan-Thompson said that the visioning night was an important opportunity to “get a lot of great ideas from families to stretch us in ways staff wouldn’t think up.” She said that the CommPACT Collaborative has been a valuable opportunity for the school.
Due to the additional funding that comes with the Network School designation, O’Brien has been able to hire a family and community outreach coordinator and design a family resource center.