By Beth DeSalvo, Guest Contributor
I am more and more comfortable with the “Why” when it comes being a culturally responsive school leader, but I have been searching for examples of the “How.”
“Walking the Walk” outlines three different “How to” methods for creating family engagement, which is at the heart of cultural responsiveness.
The three different methods came out of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools that were each at least 90% Latino and 90% of students receive free and reduced-price lunch. All schools were low achieving, according to the state accountability system.
I connected with Principal Zavala’s Parent Colloquium. She took the typical Open House or Back to School Night and transformed it into something real, relevant, and relatable for families in the school community. The Parent Colloquium is a school-sponsored parent event with a theme of “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Violence though Education.” Parents attend a free breakfast and then can choose from 15 free workshops to attend. Parents choose two workshops and children play supervised sports or computer games while parents attend workshops. Families ware served lunch after the workshops.
Parent involvement was non-existent until she established and grew the colloquium. It’s chock full of activities for families geared to their needs, interests, and literacy level.
The whole premise is to meet parents where they are and develop relationships to improve school culture. Brilliant! Parents don’t want to come to Back to School nights and sit and listen to school rules, then go to classrooms and hear classroom rules. Talking at parents is the best way to drive them away. It’s just not engaging. As educators, we are driven to keep students fully engaged, but we haven’t yet figured out how to do the same for families.
Principal Perez’ Parents as Authors Program also seems to be a great way to engage families and make meaningful connections. Parents as Authors is focused on providing parents and families an opportunity to use the writing process to create a book for their students. Parents are guided by teachers and Principal Perez and often given a template to follow in order to create the book. The program culminates with a celebration and book sharing session on Dia del Nino (Children’s Day).
Families come together on a regular basis and create a unique publication that they will have as a keepsake for years to come. Families learn about the writing process and can support their own children who are doing the same thing. This family-school connection is a beautiful thing. What better way for students to value the art of writing than to see their families cherish the same thing.
Principal Franco’s House Meetings aim to create the same sort of culturally responsive school leadership by inviting “relational power.” This is the power to take action WITH others, rather than OVER others. House Meetings are small discussion groups that emphasize getting to know one another through storytelling. This informal approach to community engagement is a way to start and continue conversations that are important to families.
The first meetings were small, but out of the first round of meetings grew the discussion for the next round and so on. These meetings broke down so many barriers.
These three examples have given me some great tools for building programs that stimulate and promote real community engagement in schools. The power of meaningful, sustainable community engagement is real. Students will succeed when schools and communities partner. Families who feel supported and valued will engage, and schools who foster and favor this level of community engagement will reap the rewards.
It truly does take a village to raise a child.
Beth DeSalvo is an Urban Principalship Program student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.