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HS Series: What We Learned About Family Engagement in High School

Flamboyan has been on a journey to understand what family engagement looks like in high school. This six part series explores what we’ve learned along the way.

 “I don’t understand what’s happening”, said Jami’s mom as she looked over her daughter’s first semester report card. “I can’t believe these grades. This is not like my daughter.”

Jami was naturally bright and had always earned strong grades, but she was now navigating her freshman year of high school. In middle school, Jami’s mom worked with her to solve problems and encouraged her to ask teachers for help when she missed school or saw her grades slipping. In high school, Jami didn’t have the same relationships with her teachers and felt unsure about how to advocate for herself. As her workload grew more challenging, her grades dropped.

Jami’s story holds true for many high school students. The transition from middle to high school is hard. More is expected of students than ever before – in their performance and in the way their parents and educators expect them take more and more responsibility for their own education. The stakes are high-their performance over the next four years will directly impact their post-secondary options.

At Flamboyan, we understand what a critical time high school is on the road to a fulfilling life for students. That is why, over the past five years, we have spent time listening and learning about what families and students need to ensure success in high school. We piloted family engagement programs in six high schools and one community college and interviewed many families, students, educators, and nonprofits along the way.

What we learned, on the one hand, confirmed what we know to be true about creating a school culture that supports family engagement from our years of partnering with elementary schools. On the other hand, we saw that requirements to keep families engaged evolved as students mature and school structure shifts. Read more about our five insights into driving effective family engagement at the high school level.

Insight I | Relationships between students, families, and educators matter

For a decade, Flamboyan has believed that when educators and families build trusting relationships, students are more likely to succeed. That belief in family engagement holds true in the upper grades. It is crucial that relationship building, communication, and partnership include the student. In our conversations with high school students and their families, they described teachers making the effort to build individual relationships with them as the single most impactful action they took to support student success.

Insight II | Families continue to play 5 essential roles to support student success

At Flamboyan, we have seen – and research shows – that families play five essential roles in their children’s education: communicate high expectations to the student, monitor their performance, advocate for their needs at school, guide their path, and support their learning at home. We learned that these roles also hold true in the upper grades. What’s unique about the family’s role when their student is in high school is that research highlights three roles as particularly impactful during this period- communicating high expectations, monitoring students’ progress, and guiding their education.

Insight III | Over time, these roles shift to students

During adolescence, kids’ brains undergo a major remodel. As they mature, students take on more responsibility for their education. Families remain engaged by taking on a coaching role. For family engagement to be effective at the high school level, families, in partnership with educators, need to coach students to internalize high expectations, monitor their own progress, and advocate for the additional support they may need.

Insight IV | There are unique barriers to effective family engagement in high school

We saw five common barriers to effectively engaging families at the high school level: deficit-based educator mindsets about families, teachers’ role creation and capacity, the complex secondary school structure, the absence of a common definition of effective family engagement, and lack of emphasis at schools on a welcoming environment for families.

Insight V | High schools need to provide structures that support family engagement

High schools are complex school communities where teachers instruct many students and student have several teachers. There are no longer clear lines for family and student engagement. Secondary schools can support family engagement at the secondary level by building out systems and structures that allow educators to maximize their limited time to reach families. These structures could look like cohorts, technology, or good old-fashioned personalized outreach.

We are now confident in our hypothesis that in order to effectively engage families at the high school level, it holds true that relationships matter and families have five essential roles to play in their child’s education. It was also enlightening to discover the necessary evolution in the student’s role in owning their education as they became young adults, and that the high school environment requires that specific barriers be addressed and intentional structures and supports put in place at schools to drive meaningful and relevant family engagement.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog taking a deeper look into our second insight, as we explore what grounds our belief that relationships between students, families, and educators continue to be essential at the high school level.

For more information about our school partnerships in Washington, DC, please visit


Jacqueline Pratt-Tuke is the former Senior Director of Secondary Partnerships in our Washington, DC office.