In the past, parents and teachers’ primary interactions have been limited to parent-teacher conferences and events at a child’s school. In an effort to foster closer working relationships with families, Manchester’s Robertson Elementary School’s kindergarten teachers are trying a different approach. This academic year, parents and guardians of Robertson kindergartners had the option to request a home visit from their children’s’ teachers.
This new approach is a part of a comprehensive, two-year effort to help the Manchester Public Schools has implemented to develop and sustain dynamic partnerships with families and more broadly engage the community in support of student learning and student success.
Robertson kindergarten teacher Jodi Clare made home visits with 15 out of 19 families in her class and believes they have really made a difference.
“When you do a home visit, parents are so much more open to you because they are more comfortable,” said Clare. “It feels more like you are becoming friends with the parents as opposed to the more traditional roles we play. You can tell that the kids know that their teachers and their parents are working together for them.”
To further Manchester’s school, family, community partnership efforts, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has awarded a one-year, $720,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
“Our intent is to ensure that all students will be prepared to be lifelong learners and contributing members of society,” Superintendent Matt Geary said. “Having healthy partnership with families and throughout the community is crucial -- and the Hartford Foundation’s support has been hugely helpful.”
Related district initiatives include expansion of its Family Resource Centers, an expansion of the home visiting pilot program, and staff development and training aimed at deepening understanding between people of different races, cultures, and socio-economic statuses.
“This is incredibly complicated and multifaceted work,” said Scott Ratchford, Manchester Public School’s director of Family and Community Engagement. “A solid foundation for effective family engagement isn't just a set of activities. It’s much more an approach to working with families as true partners. We are strongest when we work together.”
Superintendent Geary also expressed enthusiasm about the positive impact Manchester’s eleven family resource centers, which are in schools serving children from pre-kindergarten through Grade 6, are having on the district’s partnership efforts. Five of these centers were recently established with the support of Hartford Foundation funds. The Foundation also supported the hiring of new family resource center coordinators who are members of Manchester Public School’s student assistance teams, improving the district’s coordination of outreach to families needing support with student attendance, academics and behavioral challenges. According to Geary, the centers are becoming valuable “gateways” for all families, helping parents and guardians more fully support their children's growth and development. The resource centers are planning to introduce new programs and materials for families to help them support their children's learning at home.
Latasha Easterling-Turnquest, the district’s Family Resource Center director as well as the coordinator at Bowers Elementary, said that as parents and guardians become more familiar and invested in the schools, they have been more trusting and eager to participate in other endeavors.
“Building trust takes time,” Easterling-Turnquest said. “We are trying a variety of things but all have this in common: we see parents, guardians and community members as assets, as valuable partners who have a great deal to contribute, and we let them know that we truly want to work together.”
This grant is also allowing the district to continue to build teams of staff and parents at each of its schools who receive support from the Anti-Defamation League and other consultants to make positive changes in school culture and climate. Funds are also being used to further support parents by offering curriculums, instructional workshops, and other activities to allow them to help build their children’s literacy and numeracy skills.
“Manchester Public Schools and its partners are making a powerful demonstration of how everybody benefits from family, school and community partnership, said Sara Sneed, the Hartford Foundation’s director of education investments. “It has been amazing to witness the transformation occurring in this town, with tremendous leadership from the superintendent and his team along with the Mayor and so many others. Our aim is to see that these changes now support students in clearly measurable ways such as improved attendance and academic performance that the whole community ultimately can celebrate, because the whole community actually contributed to student success.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated ninety years of grantmaking in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $680 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.