Presidents’ Day is an opportunity to reflect on leadership. At the Global Family Research Project, we want to highlight the work of those leading family-engagement efforts in the variety of settings in which children learn and interact with family members.
Each day, we see examples of how leaders are removing barriers to learning experiences for families and serving as living examples of the five Rs—“raising” up their voices, “reaching” out to families, “reimagining” partnerships with community organizations to support families, fostering “relationships” between families, and “reinforcing” families’ knowledge and skills.
In early childhood education, these leaders include people such as Sandra Gutierrez, the founder and national director of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, which helps to raise up parents’ voices in advocating for quality early-education programs, promoting learning at home, and helping their children make the transition into kindergarten with confidence. In just 10 years, the program has grown from Los Angeles to almost 400 sites in more than 30 states and Puerto Rico.
Library leaders include Joyce Johnson and Sharon Morris of the Colorado State Library, who oversee Growing Readers Together, an effort to reach out to family members, friends, neighbors (FFN), and other informal providers who care for young children. Through this program, libraries are going beyond their walls and connecting with caregivers through health clinics, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and other places in the community. The program gives FFN providers knowledge of ways they can support early language and literacy development as well as access to books, games, and other learning materials.
In California, Jennifer Hicks, the director of HousED at the Partnership for Children and Youth, is leading efforts to reimagine the role of affordable housing developments in providing on-site afterschool programs for children. These programs not only provide families with assurance that their children are in a safe place for learning during the afterschool hours, but also help to bridge the distance that sometimes exists between low-income parents and educators. Some housing communities have even hosted events that bring families and educators together in a setting that is comfortable for the parents.
Families need opportunities to form relationships so they can support and share ideas with each other—especially those who might not feel confident speaking with educators about their children’s progress. That’s what elementary principals Diane Bresson and Shawn Williams, in Georgia’s Barrow County School System, are providing families by implementing Academic Parent-Teacher Teams (APTT) at their schools. Developed by San Francisco–based WestEd, APTT is a family engagement process in which teachers and parents co-create action steps to strengthen students’ reading and math skills. The program, Bresson says, not only improves student performance, but helps parents have positive experiences at their children’s schools.
Finally, at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Executive Director Jane Werner is providing a setting in which families can reinforce their knowledge and skills as they work together at the MAKESHOP, a space for children and families to make, play, and design using a variety of materials and tools. Intended to engage children beyond the early years, the MAKESHOP moves “away from the concept of families coming to the museum expecting to be provided with an experience, toward the notion of families and children creating their own experiences together,” Werner wrote in a blog post when the program began.
The words of President Abraham Lincoln, spoken in 1862, serve as a reminder of why leadership in family engagement is important: “May our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers.”