Family Engagement During COVID Holidays: One School’s Story

Browne EC Family Engagement

Browne Education Campus (EC), a PreK-8 public school in Washington, DC, prides itself on not only being a school that fosters learning, but one that provides a welcoming environment for the entire community. In 2017, Browne EC joined the Flamboyan Foundation Family Engagement Partnership (FEP) after Principal Dwight Davis previously worked with Flamboyan as a teacher leader at another school. His mission coming to Browne was to create the conditions for educators to have autonomy in how they built relationships with students and families. He believes that if you can build trust with the community, they will stand with you. Soon after joining the FEP, the school conducted a landscape assessment to deeply explore the community’s needs and vision for the school. Families, students, teachers, administration, and community members came together to decide on the most important priorities for Browne EC.

Prior to shifting to distance learning in the wake of COVID-19, Browne EC strove to be a resource for all. They partnered with local organizations to help families receive monthly fresh produce and nonperishables; they held an annual Grandparents Breakfast to celebrate students’ families; and community partners and donors helped Browne host a school-wide “Polar Express Day” where students received toys and coats. Browne’s initiative to meet families’ basic needs has also been supported by the Edgewood Brookland (E/B) collaborative, a partnership that has helped the school apply for grants, provide food donations, and host drives for coats, toys, and games.

As the world shifted to distance learning at the onset of the pandemic, many worried about being separated from their sources of support. From day one in their new virtual environment, Browne EC has been focused on their 3 C’s: “Care, Connect and Communicate.” As they sought to care, connect, and communicate with the community during COVID-19, they have thought deeply about the needs of each individual student and family.

Given the economic impact of the pandemic, many families were forced to remain home to care for their scholars, creating a need for additional resources. Fortunately, because the school had built such trusting relationships with their community, families felt comfortable communicating their needs and challenges with school staff. In response, Browne EC distributed several thousand dollars’ worth of gift cards and school supplies for students and families, while the Family Engagement Leadership Team ensured every single student had headphones, paper, pencils, whiteboards, and markers to set them up for success in distance learning.

Getting needed resources into community hands would not have been possible without the determination and trust of staff and administration. Many teachers tapped into their own resources and networks, coming to the school every weekend to source hot meals, food donations, coats, and toys so that Browne EC could facilitate their own internal drives for families. As a part of their healthy eating initiative, Browne also partnered with a local church to provide families with weekly fresh produce as well as turkeys and nonperishables for the 2020 holiday season. The school also hosted a “Virtual Family Cook-Off,” where families learned to prepare fresh and healthy meals at home, and Browne’s mental health team hosted a series of virtual wellness classes for families and faculty members.

Recently, Browne hosted a socially distant Browne Bomber Parade to let students and families know that they were missed and loved. As winter break approaches, the school is gearing up to host their “Second Annual Winter Wonderland,” where community partners, donors, and Browne EC staff come together to gift their students with toys and coats for the holiday season. Students also receive books, supplies, and other educational materials to continue supporting virtual learning at home.

Although the impact of this work cannot be easily summarized, families describe Browne EC’s staff as consistent, hardworking, caring, communicative, supportive, full of empathy, and willing to go above and beyond. This holiday season, Flamboyan celebrates the dedicated and passionate Family Engagement Leadership Team, administration team, staff, and partners for exemplifying how to make a school truly the center of a community!