School Gains Edge in Battle to Engage Families in Quest for Literacy

Contributed by Crystal Jones, principal of Beecher Hills Elementary School, Atlanta

Read and Rise Program
As the principal of a Title 1 Atlanta-area school, Crystal Jones always struggled with devising ways to engage families, particularly in the quest for literacy. Most parents remained uninvolved in their children’s education, and the typical after-school events did nothing to spark their interest. The school clearly needed a new approach.

Recognizing that many of the Beecher Hills Elementary School students had to be driven to school, Media Specialist Kristie Stargell came up with an out-of-the-box plan: Why not hold a family literacy event in the daytime?

Kristie used every medium available to get the word out and promote the event.

“We did a lot of social networking through our Facebook page and our Twitter account. We sent home constant reminders in the folders that the kids take home daily, and we promoted it on the news every morning,” Kristie shared. “We wanted parents and students to know that this is a big deal for Beecher, something we had never done before. Parents took note of that.”

When parents arrived at the event, which coincided with a Scholastic Book Fair, they could immediately see that this Family Literacy Workshop was unlike any other event they had attended. Parents walked along a red carpet while greeted by student photographers and reporters. Initially, attendance didn’t seem to be encouraging, and Crystal and Kristie watched forlornly as parents trickled in. “But I looked up a few minutes later, and it was a packed house,” Kristie said. “Classrooms were just filled with a lot of parents – including a lot of dads too.”

About 150 parents attended the event, including some seldom-seen faces. “There were several parents that surprised us,” Crystal admitted.

Kristie led the workshop, giving each parent a Read and Rise Family Guide. Read and Rise is a national Scholastic literacy program that partners with families to help children develop strong reading and learning skills. Parents were able to keep the guide, which provides hands-on literacy facts and tips for families. During the workshop, local radio personality David J from WILD 105 FM read aloud from favorite books available at the Book Fair.

After the workshop, parents gathered around their children to collaborate on their Klutz Build-a-Book® projects. Books completed, it was then time for lunch in the school cafeteria and shopping at the Book Fair. Each child was given a $5 certificate that he or she could use at the Book Fair. Certificates were provided by the HIKE Foundation, which helps provide educational opportunities to at-risk kids.

“Many of the parents did find the event helpful,” Crystal said. “They were most grateful for the opportunity to send their children to the Book Fair.” The event also opened the door for portfolio conferencing, giving parents the opportunity to discuss their children’s work with teachers. “I would venture to say that conversations at home don’t lend typically themselves to what’s going on at school. For parents to have conversations about school – only good will come of that,” Crystal emphasized.

Parents like Olepia Shannon have shared their enthusiasm about the event. “The Read and Rise Family Guide was beneficial because it showed the children the importance of reading, and it gave me ways to help my children at home improve their reading skills,” said Olepia, the mother of a kindergartner and a second-grader. “I was glad the event took place during the day because my children have a lot of activities in the afternoon. The daytime event gave me an opportunity to interact with my children during their school day, yet still allow them to take part in their afternoon activities.”

Inspired by their recent success and the positive feedback they have received, Crystal and Kristie are already coordinating new family events, such as a read-in and a Read Across America event for fathers. Kristie will continue to walk parents through the Read and Rise Family Guide at future events.

“I know our children need experience to broaden their reading skills and comprehension,” Crystal said. “Providing them more opportunities will only improve that.”

For other ideas to foster school, parent and community relationships please go to: www.families-schools.org.

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