When Turner Elementary first imagined their Back-to-School Summit last March, they imagined it would be in person. Instead, the school created a weeklong, virtual Back-to-School Summit during the second week of school and included sessions on everything from removing barriers to food, transportation, and clothing, to mental health and self-care for adults and kids.
Community Building Meetings – like a Back-to-School Summit – are a hallmark of the beginning of the year in many schools. These meetings create meaningful ways to begin building relationships with families, disseminate information, and allow families to connect with each other. In Turner’s case, they designed its Back-to-School Summit as a wraparound service event – akin to a resource fair – that showcased its community partners like Martha’s Table, A Wider Circle, the HOPE Project, and Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative.
After the Summit, Ms. Alphonso, Turner’s Community School Coordinator, shared some advice for other schools who are moving typically in-person Community Building Meetings to a virtual format:
Know what families need and provide actionable resources: Start with who they’re already connected to and use them in different ways. Identify what your needs are first, use your arsenal, and engage them.
How Turner did it…
- The school did a needs assessment of families early in the year. They analyzed that data to determine which school partners offered resources to meet the needs elevated in the needs assessment, and they called on partner organizations to identify community needs.
- The week’s themes built on each other to provide holistic support. The Summit had resources for removing barriers like food access, transportation, and clothing, advice for talking about racial equity at home, professional development during the COVID-19 pandemic, and mental health support for caretakers and children
- Each session was scheduled for 30 minutes to an hour so that families could quickly get the information and resources they needed.
Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork: Use your team – find people who are passionate and engage them in the process.
How Turner did it…
- The school formed a workgroup of strategic partners and opened it to families. The group decided which community partners should present, what the event would be like, and that the Summit should be virtual.
- Turner strategically chose staff members who were already in deep partnership with the school’s families to lead the workgroup.
- Turner relied on its deep relationships with the community to be intentional about which partners and resources the Summit highlighted.
Make sure it’s accessible: Be intentional about every aspect of the event, from the platform you use to how you get the word out.
How Turner did it…
- Early in the planning process, Turner decided to record each session so families who could not attend could watch them later.
- They did not require families to register – they could log on or call Teams, which doesn’t need an app to use, and tune in.
- To get the word out about the Summit, Turner used as many avenues as possible. They did robocalls for text and phone calls, and every morning, the receptionist sent links to families’ cell phones. They shared the information with staff to add to their classroom newsletters every Friday. Turner featured the event on their website, social media accounts, and even placed ads on social media to promote.
After collaborating with so many people to make the Summit happen, Ms. Alphonso has a more in-depth understanding of the community’s needs and how Turner’s partners can fill them. She noted, “Now I can say, ‘I have someone I want to send you,’ through a phone call.” Turner designed the event for families to understand the resources available to them and for community partners to interact with members of the school community. Most importantly, they highlighted the bridge between the school and community resources and matched families’ needs with partners’ resources to fill gaps.
For more information about Community Building Meetings, check out Flamboyan’s Relationship Building Toolkit.