January 6, 2023
Family First: Family and Community Engagement Fellowship brings wholistic approach to learning
Year-long program helps school communities collaboratively create School-Family-Community Partnership Plans
How can parents interpret complex test scores? What can families do at home to support their children’s classroom learning? How is a student really doing beyond what’s said in report cards and at parent-teacher conferences?
Understanding the full picture of a child’s educational experience can be as complex as it is necessary. Thanks to City Schools’ Family and Community Engagement Fellowship (FACE), families and care providers are working collaboratively with schools to build the trusting relationships that enhance student growth.
The result for the 44 schools (24 in cohort I and 20 in cohort II) who have participated since 2020 has been transformational. Approximately 300 stakeholders–parents, staff, teachers, principals, school family and community council chairs, and community schools coordinators–are represented across K-12 school teams.
“Our job is to build whole students. We can only do that through our relationships with families,” explained Principal Brandon Pinkney of Walter P. Carter Elementary, whose school community participated in the inaugural cohort last year. “Building a level of mutual respect helps us all understand how to work together to ensure the success of students.”
Led by the district’s Family Engagement Office, the Fellowship guides schools to create teams of principals, parents, teachers, and community school coordinators to explore questions like “what are we as a school doing to build healthy, impactful relationships with families?” Using data and benefitting from enhanced professional development, these teams create School-Family-Community Partnership Plans, with strategies for building parent relationships, ensuring parents understand student performance, and helping parents take steps toward at-home learning. The bar is set high with their family events now! FACE Fellowship schools are trained to retool their academic nights for families. By "retooled", we mean redesigning events and engaging parents and caregivers in a way that directly supports classroom instruction.
At Walter P. Carter, for example, the Fellowship team recognized the need to better explain test scores, so they implemented more frequent and more detailed communication and information sessions for parents on how to interpret assessment reports.
At Arundel Elementary School, another recent FACE cohort I school, the Fellowship team wanted to make it easier for parents to connect with their children’s teachers. According to Principal Rochelle Machado, “Thanks to lessons learned in the FACE Fellowship, we’re now meeting parents where they are, offering quick, easy ways to engage with our teachers about their child’s learning - in-person, and now, virtually.”
Schools working in lockstep with their communities to collaborate around student growth and wholeness is a priority in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future that matters for Baltimore families. Just ask Phyllis Gilmore, a parent in the Walter P. Carter school community.
“I am very comfortable with my son being here because I know he is in good hands with the staff of the school behind him,” said Ms. Gilmore. “They are just amazing. This is a family oriented school.”
In the school year 2020-2021, the FACE Fellowship launched thanks to funding from The William and Florence Hewlett Foundation and is presently resourced through City Schools’ funding. Said Shana McIver, City Schools Director of Family Engagement, “We believe that if we give families the opportunity to engage and partner in students’ learning around things like literacy, climate and culture, and wellness, it’s going to yield amazingly positive results. This Fellowship shows that. It gets us closer to meeting our goal of effective adult partnerships that support student and school improvement.”
Check out these recent Progress Report stories on how City Schools engages with and supports families: