Program Profile: GOALS Boosts Student Success Through Family Engagement

The GOALS (Giving Our Achievers Lifelong Success) program serves some 300 students at 5 different sites. Located in East St. Louis, the program focuses on STEM academic enrichment and recreation opportunities with family engagement as an integral part of the program-and students’-success.

The program serves students in elementary through high school, and GOALS staff work to ensure that students of all ages have family members who are involved in their education. “At the middle and high school level, students are maturing and parental involvement decreases as a result,” says project manager Kelli Hawkins. “It becomes important to communicate with the parents so that they understand their input and participation is needed at the middle and high school level as well.”

Staff at the GOALS program use a variety of strategies to engage families. They offer workshops on topics that are interesting to parents, such as nutrition and wellness and ways they can provide academic and homework support for their students. Staff make sure that family members feel welcome and often make a point of personally inviting parents to events. They also rely on students and parents to spread the word about family engagement activities. Finally, Hawkins believes that family members are more likely to become involved once they see that the GOALS team is committed to their child’s success. “When [parents] participate and meet our staff, they understand and know that we only want what is best for the student and his/her family,” says Hawkins. “We make sure that our parents understand that we are a team. We are all essential team members working toward the same goal.”

The GOALS leadership takes steps to develop staff capacity in the area of family engagement. “We are using techniques shared by other 21st CCLC sites throughout the state, professional development, webinars, and workshops,” says Hawkins. The program also collaborates with the Academic Development Institute (ADI), an organization that helps families, schools, and communities support children’s academic and personal development. ADI assists with activities such as home visits, the development of parent information centers, arranging mentoring with community organizations, and distributing “family packs”-literacy activities that students can complete with their families at home.

For 21st CCLC leaders who want to increase family engagement, Hawkins encourages them to first focus on communication and relationships. “In all areas of 21st CCLCs, I have learned that it’s all about relationships,” she says, while noting that strong relationships require an investment. “If initially you have challenges in the area of family engagement, don’t give up,” she says. “Building relationships takes time. Once the relationships are established, they last and benefit the students immensely.” The GOALS team also recommends that afterschool programs provide family engagement activities that are unique to the demographics of their program. Finally, it is important to make sure that family engagement activities have objectives with measurable outcomes.

The GOALS staff are seeing the impact of their efforts. This school year parent participation numbers have increased overall, and parents are providing feedback that their experiences with the program are meaningful and helpful. Hawkins notes that getting parents to attend that first event and have a positive experience is often the first step. “When the parents receive an opportunity to experience a high-quality family engagement event, they look forward to additional programming that we offer.”