If you look at the current strategic plan for any school or district in the county, there is a very good chance that “increasing family engagement” is one of the goals stated in that plan. Building a strong foundation of family engagement requires providing families with multiple ways to engage in their children’s education and development. Onsite enrichment programs can create additional engagement opportunities for families, which in turn positively impacts their relationships with schools.
Every hour students spend at school beyond normal class time is a golden opportunity to enhance their educational experience, explore interests, and build skills for success. This additional time also offers more opportunities to connect with and engage families as well.
Making a Strong Connection
Our family engagement efforts begin as soon as Right At School partners with a school or district, before our programs even open. We host open houses (both physically and virtually), providing detailed information about Right At School and our programs, as well as getting to know the needs of parents and families. We also work with our school and district partners to identify school and community events that Right At School can participate in, and have even held our own “back to school” events.
Right At School Back-to-School Bash
One example–In 2019, we hosted a big back-to-school bash in Mountain View Whisman School District (California). Over 300 parents and students enjoyed an evening with Right At School to get to know their on-site educators and have fun sampling curriculum activities while enjoying live music and snacks.
The Right At School team also assists families with the registration process, including proactively guiding families in need through the subsidy application process.
Building and Maintaining Trust
We have a multifaceted model of family engagement, and the foundation of that model is communication. The most important way we communicate with our parents is face-to-face every day at pick up (and drop off if we are providing before school). Every Right At School Program Manager invests time and effort in building relationships with our program parents and families. During daily in-person communication during child drop-off or pick-up, Program Managers keep families informed of their child’s successes that day and any behavioral or academic challenges they may have faced.
Face-to-face moments are also an opportunity for parents to express any concerns they may have about the program, Right At School staff, or their child’s experience. We train our Program Managers to listen first, thank them for sharing, validate the parent’s concerns, ask clarifying questions, and demonstrate their understanding of the situation. Program Managers take immediate action to resolve the issue, if possible, or consult their Area Manager for help. We continue to emphasize the importance of open communication with parents during and after the issue resolution process.
Program Managers keep parents up-to-date on the steps being taken to resolve their concerns, then follow up after the process to ensure that the issue has been resolved to the parent’s satisfaction. Parents have direct phone and email access to the Right At School Program Manager, Area Manager, and Regional Director, and they are encouraged to reach out with any concerns.
In addition to daily in-person communication with families, we use our web portal to put info and updates right at families’ fingertips. We also send local monthly newsletters via email with curriculum and activity updates, photos, important announcements, upcoming events, etc. Each program also has a Parent Communication Board at the sign-in/out location, with program information (e.g., snack menus, program topics, and information regarding any upcoming program-related events). Our Customer Service team provides a layer of support for families in addition to program staff, answering questions and helping with account changes or issues. Our team includes bilingual (Spanish) employees to meet the needs of our families.
How We Support Students
Right At School continuously seeks to create a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment for all students by practicing culturally responsive teaching and fostering children’s positive identity development.
All students, regardless of ability, needs, or background, are supported in their individual growth, encouraged to be their authentic selves, and celebrated for their uniqueness as a member of our community.
We survey families formally and informally throughout the year in order to understand how we can make our programs better. In our 2021 survey, over 95% of parents across the country reported their children enjoyed Right At School, and also rates our program staff as meeting or exceeding their expectations. We owe these high satisfaction scores in part to the way our Program Managers and Educators engage with families.
Having strong relationships with families at the program level means we can communicate better with our school and district partners as well. We share parent feedback during our regular check-ins with school leaders and teachers, and can also provide reminders and information to families about important school news as well.
Making Family Engagement Part of the Curriculum
Throughout the course of the year, our Right Club curriculum builds in opportunities for family and community engagement, in ways that allow students to demonstrate the skills they are building.
We have an entire module of our curriculum dedicated to variety shows, and every year programs across the country show off their amazing creativity and talents for their families. But the variety show module isn’t just about performing–students plan and produce the show as well, applying their skills collaboratively to create skits, organize and craft props and set dressing, spread the word about the show, and more.
Through our Right Club Gives Back program, students work together on service projects that support their neighbors and community. Together they identify potential projects based on local issues and needs, then plan and implement the project.
We also participate in a variety of cultural holidays and related activities throughout the year, often welcoming parent and community speakers to share their customs with our students.
Questions for Districts to Consider
Whether you are thinking of partnering with Right At School, currently have an enrichment partner, or are running your own enrichment programs, some questions you should be asking are:
- What are the ways our extended day program engages families?
- Is family engagement built into our extended-day curriculum?
- Are the extended-day programs aligned to the family engagement goals of our school and district?
- Are my extended day programs having a positive impact on the relationship families have with our school?
Expanding Opportunities for Family Engagement
We work with our district partners to find new ways to connect families to the program and the larger community. In every district we serve, Right At School seeks to form strong relationships with each school’s parent teacher organization or association (PTO/A). In addition to attending meetings, Right At School has provided free childcare at PTO/A meetings and similar school events. Right At School’s approach to engaging families is aligned with our approach to engaging schools and districts–we build partnerships that put students in the center of everything we do.
If you’d like to learn more about how we work with schools and districts to support students and families, reach out and let us know!