Afterschool Focus: Family Engagement

When families are involved in a student’s education, benefits for the student include higher grades, better attendance, improved behavior, and better social skills and adaptation to school.1 Afterschool programs can play a crucial role in encouraging family engagement, often serving as a link between families and schools. Despite the importance of family involvement, many afterschool leaders find this area challenging. Here are some strategies to engage families in your afterschool program.

Ask families what they want. Surveys—and even informal conversations—are a great way to ask families what type of activities they would like your program to offer. Many programs ask parents to serve on their advisory council. This provides opportunities for families to give ongoing feedback about the program. Whenever possible, communicate with families in their own language,2 and consider using a communication log to record interactions.3>

Use multiple forms of communication. Most programs use several types of formal communication—newsletters, program orientations, social media, family nights, letters, flyers, and phone calls—to share information about the afterschool program and encourage families to get involved. You don’t have to use all of these, but make sure that you are sharing information through more than one channel. Informal communication is also important. When parents or another family member are picking up their students at the end of the day, use the time to answer questions and provide a quick update on student behavior and progress.4

Build trusting relationships. When people feel liked, valued, and respected, they collaborate more readily.5 Taking an interest in a student’s family can build a strong relationship and ensure that interactions with family members aren’t just about negative student behaviors or performance. Home visits are also an effective way to develop a rapport with families.6 In addition, many programs have created a “family corner” at their afterschool site to make families feel comfortable. This area can provide information about the afterschool program and services in the community. Make sure signage is welcoming and accessible.7

Remove barriers to participation. No matter how enthusiastic you and your team are about family engagement, you may still encounter challenges in getting families to participate in afterschool activities and family events. Afterschool staff can address logistical challenges by scheduling events at times and locations that are convenient for families. Providing childcare and transportation will encourage attendance, as will offering activities that are fun and appropriate for all ages. Finally, consider aligning activities with those of the school day. If your program site is at a school, try holding family night on the same night of parent-teacher conferences so that parents can plan to attend both events.8

Sustain ongoing programs and activities throughout the year.  The greater the intensity of the program activities over time, the greater the impact of family engagement on student learning.9 Think about ways you can engage families on a frequent and sustained basis throughout the year. This could include programs and activities connected to your 21st CCLC program and the school and community your program serves.  

Offer a variety of ways for families to get involved. Open houses and student performances are great ways for families to learn more about your afterschool program, but don’t stop there. Consider a range of opportunities—some that will allow families meaningful ways to contribute to your afterschool program and support their child's education and others that will provide support and resources for family members. Some family members may be interested in volunteering to help with academic enrichment activities or field trips.10 You might also ask students’ families about their unique skills—cooking, woodworking, a foreign language—and see if they would be willing to share their expertise and experience. Community classes, a requirement of 21st CCLC grants, offer yet another way to engage families in your afterschool program. Use their feedback to determine what type of classes—computer skills, English as a Second Language—would be most useful.

You may have to fine-tune some of these strategies as you implement them, but they provide another way to improve the quality of your afterschool program. Family engagement is crucial to student success—and that of 21st CCLC programs.

Footnotes

1 Henderson & Mapp, 2002.

2 Jordan, Parker, Donnelly, & Rudo, 2009.

3 Little, 2013. Evidence-based strategies for supporting and enhancing family engagement. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 330–334). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group.

4 Jordan, et al., 2009.

5 Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies, 2007.

6 Pompa, 2013.

7 Little, 2013.

8 Henderson & Strickland, 2013.

9 Houtenville & Conway, 2008.

10 Osterhaus, 2013.

References

Henderson, A. T., and Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: SEDL. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf

Henderson, A. T., Mapp, K. L., Johnson, V. R., Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale: The essential guide to family-school partnerships. New York, NY: The New Press.

Henderson, A. T., & Strickland, C. S. (2013). Engaging families in afterschool and summer learning programs for middle school youth. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 340–347). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group.

Houtenville, A. J., & Conway, K. S. (2008). Parental effort, school resources, and student achievement. The Journal of Human Resources, 43(2), 437–453. Retrieved from http://www.unh.edu/news/docs/Conway_May08.pdf, Ferguson, C., Jordan, C., & Baldwin, M. (2010). Working Systemically in action: Engaging family & community. Austin, TX: SEDL. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/ws/ws-fam-comm.pdf

Jordan, C., Parker, J., Donnelly, D., Rudo, Z. (Eds.) (2009). A practitioner’s guide: Building and managing quality afterschool programs. Austin, TX: SEDL. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/afterschool/practitioners_guide_to_afterschool_programs.pdf

Little, P. (2013). Evidence-based strategies for supporting and enhancing family engagement. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 330–334). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group.

Osterhaus, L. (2013). Effective strategies for engaging parents: Real-life experiences that make a difference. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 335–339). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group.

Pompa, D. (2013). Family involvement as a critical element of quality expanded learning opportunities. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 325–329). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group.