District 113 is developing a program aimed at engaging more families in their children’s education.
“The research is really clear that when families are connected to school, their children do better in school,” Andrea Johnson, District 113 Director of Equity and Grants, said.”
District 113 launched an Equity Action Plan at Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools four years ago. The goal was to increase the academic performance of all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economics and disabilities. Part of the plan was to get families---who weren’t typically involved in their children’s school---more active.
District 113 looked to Susan Hans, the Coordinator of School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Northern Suburban Special Education District (NSSED), for help. District 113 also invited a diverse mix of parents from Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools to participate in the discussion.
“Without these conversations you will have pockets of students that don’t feel that they belong,” Hans said. “District 113 is truly leading in these kinds of conversations.”
The group, dubbed All Voices Family Partnership, has been meeting once a month for the past year to discuss questions like: What parents might be engaged? What parents might not be engaged? Where are the gaps? How do we get more families connected to the school?
“At the end, we looked at our notes and discovered the dissemination of information was a key component to the problem,” Johnson explained. She added that traditional methods weren’t reaching certain families like those who had transferred in, hadn’t grown up in the area, didn’t speak English at home, were experiencing financial difficulties, or were connected to the military.
That’s when the group decided to create a mentoring program. The idea is to match families with other families in the District who are going through similar experiences.
“Let’s say a family with a child who has special needs comes into the District. Then that child starts struggling with being included,” Johnson gave as an example. “We want to connect that family with another similar family in the District, who might have already figured out who to talk to at the school for help.”
According to Johnson, information gets disseminated in formal and casual ways, which is why the District wants to tap into both. “Let’s say there’s a meeting coming up at the school,” Johnson gave
as another example. “A group of parents could have a dinner first, which could
then be a hook to get them all to come to the school event.”
All Voices Family Partnership plans on spending this year designing a mentoring program that can be implemented next year. Right now, the group is looking for community volunteers to be part of the design team.
“We have very strong and really fantastic avenues for our students and families to stay connected to our high school,” Hans said and added the challenge is to start accessing them.”
If you are interested in helping design the mentorship program, contact Andrea Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 224-765-1028.