Communication Is Key in Family Involvement

by Maria Santana, Program Director, Multi-Cultural After School Program & Summer Day Camp, New Settlement Apartments

Perhaps it goes without saying that parents need to be involved in their children’s lives. Family involvement helps children develop emotionally, socially, academically, and in a hundred other ways. The reality of a large urban public school system, though, is that families may have difficulty navigating the maze that would allow them to take charge of their children’s education. Community-based afterschool programs, because of our smaller size, are often in a better position to help parents become involved. At New Settlement’s Multi-Cultural After School Program (MASP), we’ve found that effective, culturally sensitive communication is vital to encouraging family participation.

Principles of Family Involvement

My goal as director of New Settlement’s afterschool program is to create a family-friendly atmosphere where parents can feel comfortable being involved in their children’s activities. I try to communicate that, though one of our goals is to keep children safe, we’re not just babysitters. We’re an extension of the family. As a family, we work together and support each other to help children thrive.

Here are a few of the key principles that inform our family involvement practices and communications:

  • We make parents and other caregivers feel welcome and valued.
  • We acknowledge and support the role of parents as the most important adults in their children’s lives.
  • We provide multiple mechanisms, both formal and informal, to gauge parents’ satisfaction with the program and to seek their input.
  • We provide many and varied opportunities for parental participation.
  • We are sensitive to families’ cultural backgrounds and language differences.

Multiple Avenues of Communication

Providing multiple avenues of participation is important, but all the events and workshops in the world won’t do families any good if parents don’t know about them or understand why they should participate. Multiple avenues of communication—in the languages of the families—is equally important.

Parent communication at MASP begins with an intake interview between the program director and the caregivers. I meet one-on-one for about 30 minutes with the caregivers of every child who registers. I use this time to talk about who we are and what we intend to accomplish with their children. I build trust so families can feel secure about having their kids participate in the afterschool program.

This interview is also the first of many points at which parents learn about the opportunities we will give them to participate in their children’s activities. I let them know that throughout the year they will be cooking special meals, helping to chaperone trips, getting involved in theme days, participating in performing arts events, and going to our family day picnic. I also tell them that their participation in parent workshops is a condition of their children’s continued participation in the program. These workshops are geared to help parents learn strategies and skills will benefit both them and their children. I give parents a calendar of the full year’s activities.

Throughout the year, we again communicate with parents several times about each activity in which we want them to be involved. For instance, for a parenting workshop, we follow a communication schedule like this:

  • Two weeks in advance: Mail flyer to parents’ homes
  • Later that week: Send flyer home with children
  • One week in advance: Call parents at home (which usually takes about two days)
  • One week in advance: Send flyer home with children again
  • One day in advance: Send flyer home for the third time

Of course we make every effort to ensure that the flyers are written in the parents’ languages, which in our case is primarily Spanish and English. In addition, an ongoing feature of our parent communication is that program staff make a point of greeting parents by name when they drop off or pick up their kids. During the week before an event, we use this time to remind parents to attend.

When my assistant or I call parents about the event, we ask parents to confirm whether they’re coming. Once we get 25 confirmations, we stop calling because we know another five will show up, and that’s all we have room for.

I keep a log throughout the year that lets me know which families have attended which events. We offer seven or eight parent workshops per year and require parents to attend at least four. Last year, seven workshops yielded attendance ranging from 51 families for the first workshop to a low of 19—still a pretty good attendance rate out of 67 families. One mother says, "Maria keeps a good relationship with the parents. She tells them how important it is to attend the meetings. She always keeps the parents informed for special events." Having multiple avenues of communication has really paid off!

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In this Issue

 
Authors

Anne Lawrence
Laura Paris
Laurie Z. Ragsdale
Maria Santana

Editor

Jan Gallagher

Web Design & Programming

David W. Hill

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