School-Community Engagement

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School-Community Engagement: A District-wide Priority

Norwich Technical High School - Norwich, CT

It is well documented that family involvement in school has a positive effect on student outcomes in elementary, middle, and high school. Yet, many schools continue to grapple with how to go about creating and implementing a successful parent engagement program. 

At Norwich Technical High School in Connecticut (Norwich Tech), Principal Nikitoula Menounos said that until the Connecticut Technical High School System took on a district-wide initiative to increase family engagement across all schools, they had been content with doing the usual occasional activities to interact with parents, such as sporting events, music concerts, and art shows. Following the district model, Norwich Tech began hosting more frequent events to bring parents into the school — and the amazing response of their school community opened their eyes to a myriad of untapped engagement opportunities.

They started by creating a volunteer-run family engagement team of teachers and administrators, led by the school social worker. One of the initial activities invited parents to school for a day to participate with their students in class and active shops. “I remember that first day, I looked out my window and saw so many people parking and walking toward the school.” Menounos said. “I couldn’t believe it! We had 130 parents participate across just 2 grade levels.”

The family engagement team helped create a number of new initiatives that began to shift the school environment. More regular communication, being available for parents, and implementing systems for parents to stay aware of student progress on a regular basis all contributed to creating a stronger parent partnership. But the school-based activities that invite parents into the school have made a tremendous difference. 

As a result of doubling the number of family engagement events between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, Norwich Tech boosted the number of parents and family members who participated in an event by 79 percent. “Every year the program grows, and it’s created such a positive environment in the school,” she added. “Parents feel engaged in the school in more ways now; they feel good about school and it carries over to their children.” 

With students from 28 towns across eastern Connecticut, Menounos, who has been the principal at Norwich Tech for 16 years, added “This is purposeful — we are building a community and there’s a real sense of pride.”

Establishing the school as a hub for students and their families and weaving them into the fabric of the school community is a major goal for family engagement. At Norwich Tech, this sense of partnership has been bolstered by a family resource center with computers, internet and community information; a career fair that is open to students and parents looking for career assistance; a principal’s breakfast to discuss timely topics for parents such as financial aid; a class hosted by the school culinary department where parents are taught to make their own sushi; and a veterans coffee social for students and their family members who have served in the military (an event popular with many grandparents as well).

Menounos points to two key factors that contribute to the success of the family engagement program at Norwich Tech: having funds for programming through the district-wide prioritization and having an enthusiastic volunteer committee and facilitator that make it happen. But most importantly, school leaders have to be open to families coming into school. “It takes a growth mindset,” she said. “One that emphasizes parents being at school is good thing.”

For more information, view/download a copy of a presentation by the CT Technical High School System
on Family Engagement presented at the 2016 CPS Showcase of Model School Programs

 

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NEASC 2017-04