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The Many Faces of Family Engagement

The Many Faces of Family Engagement
Posted on 04/04/2019
Emory Elementary students perform “It’s a Grand Old Flag” as part of a family engagement event at their school.The last school bell had long since rung at Emory Elementary in Lakewood, where a party of enormous proportions was going on. It was International Night, and visitors had their pick of countries, traditions, and foods.

“We have Spain, and we have Ireland, Italy, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates. We have China. We have Mexico, a big, big station out there,” explained Emory Elementary Family Engagement Liaison Andrea Syko. “I think the majority of kids that are represented, that are highlighted, are from Mexico. We have a large Latino and Hispanic population in our school which is great because we are a dual language school.”

Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul was there, watching the fun with Emory Principal Sharon Ivie. The planning had taken months.

“At the beginning of the school year, I dreamed about these things. I started thinking about it from the first day of school,” said Syko.

The extensive planning period paid off – attendees had nothing but rave reviews.

"I love it! You get to travel the world, and you don't have to go anywhere else but the school,” said parent Alexandra Martinez.

“We want to get together and know each other more. Amazing people, amazing kids,” added another parent, Fernando Ordaz.

"The turnout that is here tonight is what a community school should be like. You should be so proud of your staff and this school here at Emory,” Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass said in his remarks to the crowd.

This special event is just one example of what’s known as family engagement in Jeffco Public Schools – an opportunity to strengthen the connection between school and home.

“Where events work best is where it’s really integrated into a year-long plan of how the school community is approaching their family engagement efforts,” explained Family Engagement Liaison Coordinator Susan Kimes-Demboski. “That integrated approach with these sparks of activity, or sparks of larger events kind of accentuate what’s happening year-long.”

Family engagement, says Kimes-Demboski is not just building leaders and educators; it’s listening to students, families, and even the broader community partners in which the schools exist.
There are many faces of family engagement in Jeffco, and they’re not all blockbusters. Sometimes they can be more quiet, intimate gatherings.

“There really is a spectrum, and it's important to value both sides of that,” explained Tracie Apel, the district’s Outreach Specialist from Communication Services. “Families have such an important role to play at home. They know their student best, and to be able to partner with the school just makes their experience more valuable.”

"I would say family engagement is as unique as each family. Every family wants the best for their kids; every family wants to be able to support their children's learning,” said Kimes-Demboski. “That can look a lot of different ways, and it shouldn't be judged based on how many times has this parent attended a particular meeting or particular event."

For example, family engagement is different at each school level.

“When you're looking at middle schools and high schools there are issues, and their needs are different than elementary school students,” explained Apel. “You might look at more social-emotional topics to bring families in to learn about, ‘How do I help my child without being involved in the day-to-day-ness of everything they’re doing at school?'”

“As long as families feel comfortable and know that they are welcome to come into the building, that they are welcome to share what they have to offer, that they are encouraged to ask questions, to give feedback, that’s what we would want for all families,” added Kimes-Demboski.

Family engagement organizers say they realize not every parent or guardian is going to be able to be part of an event, whether large or small, and that’s okay.

“Our teachers continue to invite our families, and our families do feel welcome in our school. They know that we value what they have to say and we value their input,” said Syko. “So, when we are having something at our school, they want to be here, they want to support their students.”

“A family may not feel comfortable coming in and interacting in the school building; that family is on a family engagement journey if you will,” added Kimes-Demboski. “At some point, along their child's educational lifespan, they may become more empowered, more comfortable, and may progress to a point where they are coming into the building, they are feeling more compelled to share their talents or are feeling more confident in asking questions or giving feedback.”

Apel believes the heart of family engagement is relationship building.

“If that relationship isn’t a foundation, and if it’s not built, that makes it much more difficult for them to come in,” she explained.

What it really comes down to, is giving families a school where they know they belong, as much as any student, as much as any staff.

“They see themselves as an important part of a caring, supportive learning community,” said Kimes-Demboski.

“I get very emotional. It makes my heart feel very, very big,” added Syko. “It makes me want to cry of happiness. That’s it.”

See the JPS-TV version of this story here or below.

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