#74 – Welcoming Students and Families Back to School Through Equitable Practices

Written by Jia Lin-Bothe, Family Empowerement Associate

Throughout the season of Open Houses and Back To School Nights this August, we supported seven of our school partners in several ways, from calling and inviting families to open house events to presenting about the family empowerment initiative during an orientation.

Here are some best practices we’d like to offer up about Open Houses and how you can prep for a successful start to the year:

  • Make the best first impression and start to develop deep relationships with families. Open Houses are often the first events of the school year, so it’s the school’s first chance to engage with families. It is essential to have the mindset that families and educators must work together to support students. The number one key to a family’s connection to a school is when they feel welcomed and treated with respect. However, it is important to start making these impressions before the actual open house event, such as communicating early and in families’ home languages, prepping the space to be welcoming, etc.

  • Utilize the 10×5 communication schedule. This means communicating to families at least ten days in advance and making at least five touchpoints. It is important to give families well-advanced notice of any upcoming events, with respect to their time, so they can make the proper arrangements (work, childcare, etc.) and be at the school for the event. A touchpoint could mean a ConnectEd message or a social media post. We recommend at least one personal touchpoint, which could look like a teacher or staff member from the school calling a family and inviting them to the Open House or Back To School Night. Our team supported Wilson STEM Academy with these phone calls and was able to confirm with families about their attendance at the Open House and answer any questions they may have.

  • Cater to the needs of families. Some families have different work schedules, so schools may need to have Open Houses throughout different times of the day. At Winding Springs Elementary School, there were two different time slots for Open Houses: one from 12pm-2pm and another from 4pm-6pm. Winding Springs specifically did this, as many of their families worked during the third shift. Other families may have transportation needs or need interpreters at Open House and other school events.

  • Make it a win-win. At University Park Creative Arts School, families had a “scavenger hunt” where they had to complete tasks from a checklist in order to get dinner at the end. Not only do people like to show up to events with food, but this Open House was in the evening and during dinner time, so it was another way for the school to honor families’ dinner times by providing them with food. Using the checklist, families got to explore different areas of campus to learn various information.

  • What can families walk away with? What is one tip or tool that families can use to make their lives easier? Perhaps this means going over PowerSchool and providing families with a one-pager to explain how to access PowerSchool. At Sugar Creek Charter School, families started their Open House with a convening in the gym so that all families could hear about some of the upcoming events and answer questions. Harding University High School hosted a community resource fair, and families got resources from these community partners.

  • Are you communicating after the event? Was there a sign-in at the event? Perhaps you collected information on which families showed up to Open House. It is always a nice touch to send a thank you note to families. We always encourage our school partners to “close the communication loop,” so if families had any questions that they didn’t get an answer to, be sure you follow up with them! 

It is never too late to start creating relationships and partnerships with families. These best practices are also applicable to any upcoming family-focused events that your school will be hosting. 

Action Steps:

  1. We encourage you to check out this rubric on family partnerships.
  2. What is family engagement and family partnership at your school like? Feel free to reach out to our team on how we could support you, your staff, students, and families!
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