Six Trends Setting the Stage for Family Engagement Work in High School and College

August 10, 2017 10:30 AM
by / Topics: Improving Family Engagement, Uncategorized

Nicole Savage, Director of Flamboyan’s College Readiness and College Success Department, coaches a number of high schools throughout Washington, D.C. as they implement family engagement practices that are unique to students (and their families) aiming not only to get accepted to college, but to thrive while they’re there. Guidance counselors and other college-readiness equipped staff are coming to realize that working alongside families to intentionally and equitably bring them into the fold is a must.

Below, Nicole shares six trends identified by our high school partners, which shape the way Flamboyan approaches family engagement work in the high school space.

1. There is no formula.

Family engagement work in the College Readiness and College Success space is still developing in terms of being able to identify which strategies work and have the most impact. Our learning partners with high schools in the District help to guide our work. This year, Flamboyan’s learning partners discovered that there is no formula for family engagement in the high school/college readiness space. The key learning from this is that every school needs the time and opportunity to build sustainable practices that are best for their student body.

2. Pilot strategies to learn what works.

Many of the schools in Flamboyan’s learning partnership serve first-generation college students and implemented family engagement pilots better fit students that identify as first-generation college-goers. These pilots aimed to achieve unique goals. For example, some pilots focused on bringing parents into the schools, learning the goals they and their student wish to achieve, and sharing information. Other pilots were experiential, getting parents on college campuses with their student. Each of these aspects of our work (outreach, listening, experiential learning), work to further the partnership between schools and families to better support and prepare students for college.

3.  Look for trends and adapt.

Learning partners come together three times in the summer to share challenges, explore family engagement practices, and thought-partner to plan their family engagement initiatives for next school year. At these forums, two specific trends emerged: the necessity of full school support and the need for college readiness work to begin earlier. Within a high school, implementing a successful college readiness program requires the support of parents, teachers and administrators. This year some of our partners are working on communication plans and ways to recruit help from other members within their school community. Furthermore, practitioners know college readiness begins long before the admissions process which typically occurs during senior year. Some of our partners discussed and will explore appropriate methods to extend their college readiness and success programming to 9th and 10th grade students and their families.

4.  Make the effort to build relationships and create space.

There’s a healthy appetite for this work and practitioners in the field of post-secondary attainment see its value. For those who need help getting started, though, there are numerous online resources discussing the importance of engaging families in the college process. However, the first and most important step that any veteran in this field would advise is to ensure that your school makes the effort to build a relationship with families. This is extremely important when keeping families engaged through what can be a confusing and arduous process of getting their child to college. Preparing for and applying to college also requires that families share a lot of personal information that’s usually kept private. To create a space where students, families and practitioners are working together, there must be a level of trust.

5.  Acknowledge that families continue to play a role through college.

College readiness and college success work requires a unique mindset shift. One challenge we still grapple with is the belief that college is the point where students are on their own and therefore families shouldn’t play a role at all. We agree that students should continue to mature, learn to self-advocate, and be held accountable. However, family support is still necessary for students to be successful in college. Families provide encouragement through tough semesters, support in making financial decisions, help in deciding on a good-fit institution, among other things. Flamboyan’s work in the college readiness and success space wants to ensure that families have the knowledge and tools to play these roles.

6.  Be forward-thinking with partnerships.

In D.C., College Readiness and Success is promoted by numerous entities. Therefore, Flamboyan is gearing up to also partner with community based organizations (CBOs) and colleges. In addition to the support they receive in school, many students also participate in one (or more) college preparatory programs that support college readiness. Partnering with colleges and CBOs allows us to further explore the appropriate roles of families to ensure they are given the tools to support students to and through college.