By Mathu Gibson, Associate Director of Family Empowerment
Let’s talk about small beginnings.
Many great movements of our time originated from small beginnings, and this is something I remind our school partners of when building with their families. Eight years ago, SchermCo planted the seed of a partnership between Ashley Park (CMS District School) and Movement Freedom (Charter School). This partnership brought two neighborhood schools together to share resources and best practices. It was the genesis of our family empowerment work.
Eight years later, that one seed has grown from two to sixteen school partners (14 in Charlotte) and 12,000 + families served nationwide. Our growth results from continual trust in the processes we have established since the beginning.
At SchermCo, we desire to see our schools evolve from engagement to empowerment. Family engagement is a building block for school communities to support overall family well-being and children’s healthy development. Family empowerment equips families with the skills, tools, resources, and knowledge to build a better life while having support from the school community as they embark on their journeys.
Schools love family engagement. Large turnouts are a typical guage used to measure positive family engagement. Seeing hundreds of families flood school doors for a movie night, dance, or carnival is a beautiful aesthetic because it feels impactful. However, low attendance at “less fun” events can cause school administrators to wonder about the disconnect.
For instance, one of our school partners hosted a Family Finances event in February. Community partners Common Wealth Charlotte and DreamKey Partners provided families with financial counseling and pathways to affordable housing/homeownership for this event.
When the day arrived, 63 attendees (16 total families) came to the event. Initially, the school was frustrated and underwhelmed by the numbers because they had checked every communication box before the event. After further review, the data proves the event had significant value for the families.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on this event:
- Out of the 63 attendees, 37 were adults.
- This means:
- Thirty-seven adults participated in a trauma-informed financial education session.
- Thirty-seven adults participated in a pathway to affordable housing session.
- Thirty-seven adults left the event equipped with skills, tools, resources, and knowledge to change the trajectory of their families.
- Additionally, the 26 students who attended participated in age-appropriate financial empowerment sessions.
- When asked what was most helpful about this event, here is what families stated:
- “Common Wealth Charlotte and DreamKey Partners sessions were great. Both sessions applied to my current situation, and I’m glad I attended.
- “All the information provided was beneficial and explained in a way I could understand. They care about the well-being of families.”
Each family left the school with more knowledge and exposure than when they arrived. Family empowerment events like this are how schools become a resource for upward mobility. The journey from engagement to empowerment may be less gratifying, but its impact is exponential.
Finances, homeownership, and mental health are challenging topics to discuss, especially within Black and Brown communities. When schools choose to empower their families in this way, they must be sensitive to the lived experiences of their families and the uncomfortableness of these topics. However, it doesn’t mean the conversations should not take place. Schools must adjust their expectations and add grace to deepen their trust with families.
To see families consistently show up in large numbers to these events requires patience, consistency, creativity, vulnerability, and commitment to the process of empowering. When schools form trusting relationships, everyone wins.