As we celebrated Thanksgiving this year, I was thankful for the almost 300 people who turned out to work with and learn from Dr. Joyce Epstein. A professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, she’s one of the nation’s leading experts about using school/family/community partnerships to help youngsters.
Epstein’s optimistic, positive, practical presentation gave many examples of how schools have reached out successfully, to involve all kinds of families.
People drove from as far as Red Lake, Duluth and Onamia to North High School in Minneapolis. Recently I mentioned that Epstein was going to make a free presentation. Some people learned about the presentation via this newspaper. Others heard via announcements sent out by Growth and Justice, MinnCAN, the Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals or the center where I work.
These organizations, Cargill and the Minnesota Department of Education made a free evening presentation and a day-long workshop possible. As Epstein reminded us, we can accomplish much more together than any of us by ourselves.
Many studies confirm this. Epstein’s handouts that summarize this research and suggest new steps that are on our website, www.centerforschoolchange.org.
Epstein’s research recommends that each school create an “Action Team for Partnerships.” This should include teachers, parents, the principal, community representatives, and at high schools, several students. She has identified six types of involvement that she thinks these teams should work on to help the school reach its goals. These include parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making and collaborating with community.
She offered the example of a school that wanted to help more students learn to read well. Using the “6 types” approach, a team could develop a plan that includes:
•Workshops for parents on how to help their own children improve reading
•Using parent/student teacher conferences to discuss student progress
•Identifying parents, and other community members, who could come to school to read a favorite book
•Creating weekly homework assignments that include students reading aloud for their family
•Creating a family room at school where parents could obtain information and resources about reading
•Donations from business and community partners for classrooms, a school library, or books students could take home.
Epstein stressed that the team approach should continue through high school. The value of this was clear the following day, when teams from Minneapolis, St. Paul district and metro district charter public schools met with Epstein to review research and work on their own plans.
A bright student named Ariana from Harding High School in St. Paul explained how the school might work with nearby businesses to increase on-time attendance. She recommended asking businesses to encourage students to leave early enough to arrive on time.
Epstein agreed with this idea, and cited it as an example of how insights from young people can be very valuable.
For much more information, see our website, or www.partnershipschools.org.
Yes, we have challenges. But let’s also honor people like Epstein and the hundreds who turned out to hear her. Many schools are making progress. I’m thankful for open-minded educators and parents, who are willing to build bridges to help young people and the broader community. — Joe Nathan (Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org.)