UPPER MARLBORO – When the new school year starts in August, Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) parents will have the opportunity to take to the classroom, but not to study names, dates and arithmetic.
Instead, parents will learn how to play a key role in their children’s lives and in the school’s community.
During a work session on Jan. 7, the Prince George’s County Board of Education took up the task of analyzing how well the school system supports and engages the parents, guardians and alumni of the county. The work session, which focused on family and community engagement, shed light on the efforts the school system is making, not only to seek engagement from families, but also to support them.
Two major factors of this effort are the school system’s anticipated roll out of its online family engagement tool kit and the inaugural “Parent University” classes – the title of which is still under consideration.
Segun Eubanks, the chair of the board, said he was excited for the board to dig deep into family engagement and see where the school system’s staff achieve and struggle in the process. He said there is no single subject “nearer and dearer” to his heart than family and community engagement.
“I entered this work as a parent, a committed and dedicated parent and community member. One who has had tremendously fruitful engagements with the school board, and occasionally not so fruitful. So I understand how difficult and challenging this work is,” he said.
Eubanks said the school system reengaged a parent and community advisory council last year and the group has worked hard on helping PGCPS create ways to include the parents and community in everyday school functions, as well as helping the school system create support for families.
Christian Rhodes, the executive sponsor of the increasing family engagement strategy team, said family engagement is a “cornerstone” for how the district will deliver on the promise of PGCPS.
“I would offer that the quantity of engagement opportunities is not our largest concern. Instead, if we’re honest, it may really rest on the quality of the programmatic opportunities we provide,” he said. “Our work as a strategy team seeks to improve the quality of our efforts and provide a systemic framework that pushes our district far toward ensuring high academic achievement for all.”
Sheila Jackson, the director of family and community engagement, said to fully acknowledge and assist parents in the school system, PGCPS has dedicated itself to ensuring that parent engagement is not just “an add on and its not a program, but rather it is really a dynamic and integral part of ” what the school system does everyday.
“It’s our role, together, to prepare all children to be college and career ready,” she said.
At the meeting on Thursday, the board and school system members went through a prototype of the new “Family and Community Engagement Tool Kit,” which is one way the school system plans to increase engagement and support for parents.
“This tool kit is a living, breathing, ever evolving portal that provides access to videos, links, research, strategies and best practices from leading experts in family and community engagement,” said Tanisha Hanible, a family and community engagement specialist.
The portal, as a resource guide, will increase communication and collaboration and will help parents assist their students in their studies. Rollout of the online program is tentatively expected for the next school year, 2016-2017.
Another major program anticipated in the new academic year is the “Parent University,” though it may have a new name by the time it comes to fruition.
Desann Manzano-Lee, a family and community engagement specialist, said the plan for the parent program was announced in PGCPS Chief Executive Officers’ state of the school system address in December and has existed in the United States since the 1980s.
“‘Parent University’ is an engagement strategy that affords a unique opportunity for parents, schools and the community to become jointly involved in education, increasing the likelihood of academic and personal success for our students and their families,” Manzano-Lee said.
The classes and workshops, which will be offered in school sites as well as community centers, will help parents advocate for their children by “informing families about everything from navigating the school website to the role they can play in guiding policy.”
Manzano-Lee said the program will also give parents a way to network with professionals and other parents, share expertise and serve as trainers. The classes will focus on three main topics: parent empowerment, 21st century learners and health and wellness. The program is built off of input from members in the school system, as well as research and visit, into programs across the country.
The school system is still working on the final stages of both the “Parent University” and the tool kits before they begin classes and open the website to the public. All the feedback received at the work session from the board of education and community members will be taken into account for the final plans, said Andrea Phillips-Hughes, the Title I supervisor for family and community engagement.
“First and foremost, we strive to make sure, to ensure we do everything we can so that our students will have outstanding academic achievement,” she said. “And, being honest, we have worked toward our mission. We have recognized that we still have a lot of work to do.”