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U.S. Dept. of Ed., Literacy Group Seek Family Engagement Answers

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Identifying parent "support" cards as a potential way to boost family engagement is one school success strategy that is being studied in the collaboration announced May 9 between the National Center for Family Literacy, a Louisville, Ky.-based nonprofit, and the U.S. Department of Education.

The cards are used to track various volunteer and involvement activities of families with students at Eccleston Elementary, a school in Orlando, Fla., that has a large Title I population. Parents earn points for participation and accomplishment. At the end of the school year, those who attain certain point levels receive a certificate and a T-shirt honoring their involvement in a ceremony much like a graduation.

"For many, it's the first time they are crossing the stage themselves. The parents are gaining a sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm, for themselves and their entire families," says Emily Kirkpatrick, vice president at the national center, who was part of the "listening tour" at the school.

Her nonprofit and the U.S. Department of Education are looking for ways to encourage parents to participate in school activities and educational endeavors with their children, and to advance themselves as learners, too. The report/support cards at Eccleston have been very effective in the 18 months they have been used, according to Kirkpatrick. "There's actually a healthy competition among parents," she explained.

Best of all, this simple concept, which the school carried out on a shoestring budget, has the potential to be scalable. In talking with educators and community organizations in Orlando, Kirkpatrick said they brainstormed about how the school could ask for help from the groups to get contributions of food or incentive rewards.

This is just one idea that will be considered for recommendation at the end of the year's collaboration. Together, representatives of the department and the center for family literacy plan to visit five communities around the country, observing practices and discussing opportunities to boost family engagement.

Kirkpatrick said expected outcomes include:

  • Input on a second draft of the department's "Family Engagement Capacity Building Framework" original draft report released in December 2012.

  • A synthesis of leading practices with family engagement in education (a report or matrix; documentation of practices that are worthy of additional study and potentially scalability).

"My expectation is that it will be much easier for schools or other entities to know what practices are available out there that they wish to emulate or adopt, she said.

The May 9 announcement about the year-long partnership and its scope is available here.

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