Harvard Family Research Project[HFRP], has discovered that there are programs out there that are taking family engagement to the next level. In fact, HFRP has an upcoming release of Quilting Stories of Innovation in Family Engagement in which they have collected an array of success stories in family engagement practices and programs from around the country.
A common thread tying the stories together in this innovations quilt is the idea that supporting family engagement is a shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities. These stories highlight a coordination of efforts and the establishment of partnerships. Through these partnerships, diverse sectors and stakeholders work together and optimize their resources to support children’s learning and development anywhere, anytime.
Parentopia creates a blended learning environment for families of young children. With an ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) site in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have developed the first blended learning environment for parents and families of young children through the creation of Parentopia. ECFE offers families once-a-week parent education, early education, and parent‒child interaction with licensed early childhood teachers and parent educators. The program begins at birth and continues through age five. It is open to all families (universal access), and engages with families who live in the neighborhood.
Through the use of Parentopia, teachers have a virtual space for engagement with all families in classes and across the program through integrating communication, collaboration, and content-sharing tools for learning. Parents are able to continue learning about parenting through discussions with teachers and with the parents who are part of their trusted learning communities.
The ability to include family members who can’t attend the face-to-face classes allows information for learning and engagement to be extended and shared and for all family members to feel involved. The virtual platform then offers opportunities for individual enhanced learning and engagement with the program and with teachers―for social engagement, support, and the building of social capital with a community of peers―and for a wider community of families and staff to be built through blended offline and online interactions. HFRP is currently implementing that platform that was designed through a program‒university partnership and observing the contextual factors required for full, organic use of hybrid learning in a community-based non-formal education program (e.g., staff technology comfort and competency, support for content and platform updates, value of instructor presence in parent use, and administrative support).
What makes this practice innovative?
This is the first attempt to offer a blended engagement and learning experience to families in an early childhood parenting experience. We should seriously consider adopting this kind of engagement. We can examine and measure its impacts on parenting and parent well-being and indirectly on children’s outcomes. Because of the continuous, universal access, community-based, and school district‒sponsored nature of the ECFE program, it should become a national standard and a new best practice.
Unlike other programs that may be short term, ECFE builds relationships with families that continue actively for up to five years, and for many families for their whole lives. And because ECFE is a product of the schools (and many families stay within the school district for primary and secondary school choices), and since much of engagement is based on trust and familiarity, the blended learning and engagement experience has the potential to strengthen early relationships between parents and school staff and the school district that can be a “head start” to the family‒school engagement efforts down the road.
Now, that is innovation at work in the best interest of children and families! This is exactly the type of initiative that I have been asking for, and the exemplary practices needed for meaningful partnerships with families! What do you think?