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CentroNía + The Flamboyan Foundation: Family Engagement and Its Importance Towards Educational Equity

Written by Marlyn Silva from CentroNía

Quality early childhood education and family support services are key for children to succeed academically and in their community. In addition to supporting children’s education and development, CentroNía helps families learn and grow alongside their children.

The Flamboyan Foundation shares our commitment to achieving educational equity for students. Their work in D.C. has focused on promoting meaningful family engagement between students and their families. A positive family environment and supportive relationship between parents, children and their school community helps children achieve their upmost educational excellence.

Flamboyan’s DC Executive Director, Patience B. Peabody, a native Washingtonian from southeast DC, recently took the time to discuss with CentroNía about Flamboyan’s work and their initiatives involving family engagement and education.

CentroNía: What is the Flamboyan Foundation’s approach to promoting educational equity?

Patience: At Flamboyan, we believe that students succeed when families and educators work together as equal partners. Our work over the past 10+ years has focused on supporting meaningful and sustainable family engagement practices in schools that serve students and families most impacted by inequity. We understand that all families deserve to have access to the information and connections they need in order to accelerate their children’s learning, so we pioneered REAL Family Engagement – an approach that emphasizes trusting Relationships between educators and families, provides Experiences for educators to challenge their biases and promote equity, champions Academic partnerships that address student performance and social-emotional development, and empowers school and community Leadership to create the conditions for meaningful family engagement to thrive. We know that when educators and families become true allies in educational excellence and schools foster a sense of belonging for everyone, students succeed in school and beyond.

CentroNía: What drew you to focus on the role of families in children’s learning?

Patience: We established our focus on family engagement with the founding of our Washington, DC office! A cornerstone of how we work is to listen and learn, so the first thing our founders did was ask community members in DC: “If you had a little time and a little money, what would you spend it on?” The answer, resoundingly, was engaging parents. Since then, we have worked to support schools in DC and communities across the country to innovate and sustain effective family engagement practices within their schools and school systems. In DC alone, we have supported more than 70% of public schools through an aspect of our programming, and we are nowhere near done. There is much to look forward to as we investigate how we evolve our support for educators and families as a result of the pandemic.

CentroNía: What do you wish everyone knew about K-3 education in DC?

Patience: I’d like folks to stay connected to the belief that all parents, no matter their circumstances, want the best for their children from the moment they are born. Our youngest learners are the ones who will someday make the world go round, and as we design programs and policies that impact them, we must invest in them as early as possible. This includes building true partnerships with their parents and caregivers, which we know has impacts and lasting effects on confidence and learning.

CentroNía: As a proud alumnus of DC schools, what lesson stuck with you most from your schooling experience?

Patience: Yes, I am a proud Alum of DC’s public schools, indeed! Shout out to Plummer ES and former Birney ES, former Douglass Junior High, and Banneker HS! Throughout my schooling, I always had a person in the building who I knew cared about me – sometimes it was my teacher, but it was also my security guard, school counselor, and a member of the front office. In turbulent times, that was my go-to person – and I always knew there was an adult in the building who had my back. In many ways, that is why I am drawn to the work we do at Flamboyan. My own experiences have shown me the value of having trusting relationships with my school community and the impact of belonging on my academic and emotional success. So, the lesson I carry with me every day – and now as I’ve become a parent to two incredible girls – is that relationships at school between staff and families matter to whether a student feels a sense of belonging. That experience of connectedness can have lifelong impacts on a person’s confidence, academic achievement, and social-emotional development.

CentroNía: How can centers and schools support increasingly multilingual and multicultural student bodies?

Patience: The District of Columbia is rich in its multicultural and multilingual diversity. With approximately 12% of the overall student body population in school year 2020-21 identifying as English Learners – up to 30% in some Wards of the city (2021 DC School Report Card) – we can’t ignore that language and culture are real factors in a child’s opportunity to thrive in school. Similarly, we also can’t ignore that these are real factors in families’ ability to engage in their child’s education and school community, if they themselves don’t feel welcome or are not able to communicate with their child’s educators. Centers like CentroNía that offer family support services in a bilingual and multicultural environment, and prioritize building strong relationships with families to create positive parent/child relationships so both can learn and grow together, offer strong examples for centers and schools to model. This approach aligns with what we’ve seen and research has confirmed – that families play five essential roles in their children’s education: (1) communicating high expectations; (2) monitoring performance; (3) supporting learning at home; (4) guiding their path; and (5) advocating for their needs. All families deserve to have access to the information and connections they need, in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner, to play these roles well.

CentroNía: CentroNía participated in the Back to School with JOY project. Can you tell us a little about how the initiative was conceived?

Patience: We knew that the School Year 2021-2022 would be a challenging year for students, families, and school teams as they navigated their in-person return to school after two years of virtual learning amidst a global pandemic. We also knew that during those two years, trust eroded between school communities and families. Our work has always centered around supporting schools to develop trust with families, create welcoming environments, and promote a strong sense of belonging. We wanted to be responsive to this call in a way that not many could. So we launched our inaugural community grantmaking initiative, Back to School with JOY, to help public schools and community-based organizations (CBOs) in the District infuse joy and creativity in their back-to-school efforts! In total, we funded 33 public and public charter schools and 10 CBOs, including CentroNía, who we were thrilled to fund. We love the Studio R.O.C.K.S. afterschool program, and it was especially heartwarming to learn that the grant funds supported school communities in two of our graduated partner schools: HD Cooke ES and Tubman ES.

CentroNía: What brought YOU joy through the process?

Patience: Seeing what partners like YOU have done to bring happiness to students has brought me incredible joy. The creativity I have witnessed through Back to School with JOY has been infectious – poetry slams, art projects, family gathering events, gardening, and so much more. I continue to be encouraged by what our school communities can do when they have money and the ability to make decisions about what’s right for them, unencumbered. I want to keep that same energy as Flamboyan continues its work moving forward.

Thank you, Patience, for taking the time to answer our questions!

This interview was first published alongside CentroNía’s quarterly Supporters’ Newsletter InSight.