Building a groundswell for student success

When families are engaged — children do better in school. The same holds true for communities. When communities are engaged and hold high-expectations for all of their schools — schools and children do better. Thus, as another school year begins, our shared goal must be to build the capacity for effective partnerships that lead to greater student success.

Too often we rush past this all-important capacity building straight to the “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” But, communities that get deeply engaged in understanding the need for partnerships create the conditions for students to thrive.

Our communities are critical in facilitating the success of both our schools and our students. Our communities have the power to signal the value of education, to hold high expectations for the education of all, and to provide the supports necessary to realize success. Developing the capacity of Kentucky’s communities to fill this crucial role is what I call the Groundswell Initiative.

The dual capacity framework for effective family-school partnerships is an excellent methodology for creating a Groundswell in your community. The framework consists of five parts.

First, partnerships must be linked to learning. Over and over again research points to the power of family-school engagement focused on learning outcomes. Forget the bake sale — think reading nights, science Fridays, and teaching kids why those orange slices packed with vitamin C are so helpful on the sidelines of the soccer field. Community and business leaders, as well as school staff and families, can all play a role in supporting and encouraging learning as part of everyday events.

Second, partnerships must be relational. Relationships are the foundation for all human development. Try really getting to know one another in the places where folks come together. Families, students, and communities can be part of creating welcoming, inviting, life-long learning cultures — from the classroom, to the school cafeteria, to the grocery store, the basketball court, and beyond.

Third, partnerships must be focused on development, not just service. The goal of the partnership should be grounded in the progress of our young people, their families, and our schools. A strengths-based framework which honors and recognizes the unique character of families, and the gifts they bring to the table, is the starting point for positive growth and healthy development.

Fourth, the partnerships must be collaborative. Families and communities have a lot to offer our schools, and our students surely need support within the traditional school hours as well as in all the hours before and after — and in the summer months. Our schools can’t do it all. Families, communities, and students themselves must be part of the student success story.After all, our schools are nestled within communities and the student body represents the myriad of families that make up those communities. Collaboration by all stakeholders is necessary.

Lastly, effective family-school partnerships must be interactive. Like a good conversation that requires a volley of active listening and active sharing, effective partnerships must allow all those engaged to fully participate in the learning, the development, and the decision-making. This includes, of course, our students and educators, as well as extended and blended families, business and community leaders.

Together, communities must advocate for stronger progress for all students and monitor their progress — owning the truth of student outcomes from all neighborhoods and family backgrounds.

It’s through a rich community-based ecosystem that the story of each student’s success will take root and blossom. Each and every student deserves this web of support — with the community holding high expectations for their potential (not only in K-12 but also in postsecondary) as the ultimate goal.

As we welcome a new school year, let us all join together, leveraging our individual sphere of influence to respond to the unique needs of students in our own communities. Get engaged, engage others, and commit to even small plans of action! Join with countless others from across Kentucky in a movement for family and community engagement in education by joining the Groundswell Initiative at groundswell.prichardcommittee.org.

The framework described here is based on the work of Harvard University scholar, Dr. Karen Mapp. If you’d like to learn more, consider participating in a conversation with Dr. Mapp on Friday, September 27. Learn more at groundswell.prichardcommittee.org.

Brigitte Blom Ramsey is the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a statewide citizen-led, independent nonprofit organization working to improve education early childhood through postsecondary.

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