‘Making parents our partners’: Louisiana schools aim to engage families, improve literacy

·6 min read
National and state education leaders are implementing efforts to increase family engagement and improve literacy and educational attainment for children and parents.
National and state education leaders are implementing efforts to increase family engagement and improve literacy and educational attainment for children and parents.

Children are awake for about 6,000 hours each year, and only about 1,000 of those hours are spent inside a classroom. The rest of their time — an overwhelming majority — they are at home or in their community, perhaps taking piano lessons, playing soccer, participating in summer art camp or afterschool tutoring.

This "ecosystem of learning" that includes not only school and community leaders reinforces the old adage that it takes a village to raise — and educate — a child, and it can look different depending on a family's location and resources,

Research shows the impact of that learning ecosystem is undeniable and essential, so educational leaders from the local to the national level are working toward increasing family engagement and literacy.

“Family engagement is one of the most powerful predictors of children’s development, educational attainment, and success in school and life,” according to a 2018 national report from the Global Family Research Project and Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Louisiana Department of Education sees family engagement as a key part of getting students ready for kindergarten and helping them stay on grade level through high school.

Learning how to 'be engaged'

The state's "Be Engaged" Birth-12 Framework is a comprehensive approach designed to narrow educational achievement gaps through high-quality family and community engagement, according to the department.

Family engagement is an empowering partnership among families, educators, practitioners and the community with shared responsibility for the personal success of children and youth, according to LDOE.

Antoinette Pete, coordinator of parent and family engagement for Acadia Parish Schools, said sometimes parents haven’t realized they are an important part of the puzzle of teaching their children. And often, they don’t know how to get involved.

“That’s pretty much what I do,” Pete explained. She conducts workshops with families under her purview, demonstrating lessons taking place in classrooms and how parents can continue that learning at home.

Her workshops aren’t just about standards and curriculum. She’ll go over self-esteem, goal-setting, bullying, ways to praise children, where to find resources in the parish, literacy and more.

Just showing up to the workshops or talking about school at home makes a difference, she said, as it shows children that education matters.

“Family involvement is one of the foundations of education,” said Latanya Evans, director of Acadia Parish Head Start. “We recognize that parents are these kids’ first teachers. It’s all of us involved. We need the help of the parents and the community to educate.”

'I want to be a part of the solution'

Acadia Parish mom Angela Obierika has found ways to stay connected to her fifth-grader’s school even during the pandemic. School administrators and teachers keep her in the loop over the phone or by email, and she even could watch her son’s class awards ceremony virtually last year.

"They were still trying to include us as much as possible,” she said, and she appreciated the effort. “It’s very important to stay active and involved. I want to know what’s going on with my son. If there’s a problem, I want to be a part of the solution."

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The Lafayette Parish School Board is taking steps toward replacing the Truman Early Childhood Education Center site with plans to appraise and purchase property for a new preschool building. Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.
The Lafayette Parish School Board is taking steps toward replacing the Truman Early Childhood Education Center site with plans to appraise and purchase property for a new preschool building. Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

Claire Senegal, a mom of four in Rayne, said she and her husband have worked to be involved in their sons’ schooling, attending parent-teacher meetings, chaperoning field trips, taking part in fundraisers and helping with homework.

"This is important because I am able to know first-hand what's going on in school and the learning process,” Senegal said. "When parents are involved, students know what is expected of them and they try their absolute hardest to succeed."

Having families involved not only prioritizes education and impacts motivation, but it also has been shown to improve literacy for both the child and family member.

It’s an area the state wants to work on, as fall 2020 assessments showed 40% of kindergarteners are on or above grade level in reading. That percentage inches up in the next grade levels to 42% in first grade, 48% in second and 50% in third, according to LDOE data.

It remains about the same for older students. Less than half (47%) of eighth-grade students scored Mastery or above on the 2019 LEAP test.

'Student success starts and flourishes with active engagement'

Earlier this year the state Department of Education launched an initiative with the goal of sparking a reading revival across the state, affecting children and adults alike by providing system leaders, educators and families with practical tools and resources to support literacy.

The state added family literacy and engagement programs from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' literacy arm PRIME TIME to its approved list of family literacy support vendors, so districts and families can access core family reading programs to promote family interaction and discussion, training in collective learning strategies, and even a "to-go" version called Spark Box. It provides books and other materials in a box for families to take home, according to an LEH release.

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"We know that student success starts and flourishes with active engagement with loving adults in their lives," said Shelley Stocker, vice president of education programs for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. "LDOE's emphasis on family engagement in improving literacy outcomes for all students directly aligns with how we approach humanities education for both children and adults."

'Taking away the obstacles that limit educational attainment'

The Lafayette Parish School System has been making strides in family literacy for decades with its Families Reading Around Neighborhoods (FRAN) program.

What began in 1998 with two used motor homes that served as classrooms on wheels continues to provide adult education, early childhood education, parenting training, and parent and child together time in brick-and-mortar classrooms at Truman Early Childhood Education Center.

FRAN serves about 40 families per year, assisting parents with basic computer skills, literacy skills, and personal and career goals as well as providing training to enable them to play an instrumental role in their child’s education, LPSS Family Literacy Coordinator Shelley Fuselier said.

The Lafayette Parish School Board is taking steps toward replacing the Truman Early Childhood Education Center site with plans to appraise and purchase property for a new preschool building. Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.
The Lafayette Parish School Board is taking steps toward replacing the Truman Early Childhood Education Center site with plans to appraise and purchase property for a new preschool building. Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.

Parenting adults, age 19 and older, who live in Lafayette Parish can qualify for this federally funded program, and they can bring their children aged 2 months to 4 years with them. The kids get hands-on preschool in their own classroom, while parents take their classes.

"The beauty of the family literacy model is that it offers early childhood education, transportation assistance, and parenting skills — taking away the obstacles that limit educational attainment," adult education teacher Jackie Ware said. "If we want to continue to help raise literacy levels in our young generation, we must give parents the skills and confidence by providing the dignity of an education."

Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: ‘It’s all of us involved’: Louisiana schools aim to engage families