Barriers & Grassroots efforts to family engagement

Barriers & Grassroots efforts to family engagement

Summary: This session discussed barriers and challenges that organizations face in family engagement and some of the solutions the North Louisiana STEM Alliance and the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership have found in their work.

The audience identified the main challenges are typically talked about in this work – time, transportation, food, communication, funding, participation, and equity of access. The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP), which works to enhance STEM educational experiences in Buffalo, New York public schools, see two main barriers in their family engagement work: parental lack of knowledge about STEM and the disconnect between teachers and other school personnel and parents or guardians. 

The grassroots efforts ISEP used to address these barriers focused on educating parents. A unique aspect of their program for parents was that the provided stipends to parents for attending parent professional learning meetings. They found this made them feel like they were equals and their time was being valued. Their input was valued. They host a day long Parent STEM Retreat which serves as a space for parents to get to know each other and discuss common concerns and share experiences. They also do a Saturday Camp for parents at the Buffalo Museum of Science. This gives them a voice and a space to use that voice and be in a STEM learning environment to gain comfort in that type of environment. Lastly, they host a student summit, similar to a science fair that also involves the parents as well as the teachers and students. 

Another barrier presented was the need to combat pre-existing, multi-generational attitudes towards school and the school system. The two prevailing attitudes being: you come from a culture where teachers are to be respected and are the authority, and; my job is to get my kids to school and now it’s the school and the teacher’s job to handle the rest. There is no one culture or one answer but it is about understanding the cultures you are working with and coming up with solutions, drawing from best practices that work for your context.

A strategy to engage parents is to focus on building relationships with the community. Ensuring your organization is involved with the local community’s parent groups or associations and working with parents. It is also important to acknowledge that every parent has something to offer and helping them find out what it is and then collaborating with them to build or adapt activities around those skills. Collaborating with them to create a program that will help them teach their kids what STEM actually looks like on a day to day basis. 

This session also discussed taking a growth mindset and applying it to family engagement work. A growth mindset is the belief that abilities can be developed through effort and practice. That your knowledge and abilities can change and grow. Linking this concept to engaging families on both sides – as an educator and for parents. Because it is important not to look at the challenges and barriers and use them as an excuse not to reach out, not to try. 

Quotes: “One of the big things is this idea of being versus doing. And I hear a lot of what we’re doing. And it’s a challenge in… [our] public schools… with the being. To me that being of parent engagement is the true valuing of the collaboration.” (Wendy Mistretta)

“I hear… they are truly meeting them where they are. And what that means to me is sometimes accepting the fact that meeting a parent where they are means they are doing the best they can do just by getting their kid to school. And we want them to do more.” (Wendy Mistretta)

“True engagement requires challenging our assumptions.” (Wendy Mistretta) 

“Always coming back to relationships because how your really do this work is through relationships.” (Audience)

“It’s about building those interpersonal relationships and really getting to know who you are working with and being creative and being able to work from where they’re at.” (Victoria Dymock)