Fostering Family Engagement for Student Success
Recognizing that a child’s success in school is influenced by various factors, the Foundation for VPS directs funding to provide basic needs, support emotional well-being, offer enrichment opportunities, and encourage family involvement. Collectively, funds support a community schools strategy adopted within Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) in which schools serve as community hubs that address not only educational needs but also the broader needs of the community. One key component of this strategy is active family engagement. Authentic engagement fosters a sense of belonging and support for students and families. Ultimately, family engagement contributes to positive student outcomes, such as improved achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, and is crucial for building relationships of trust and respect between parents, teachers, and students.
Schools can access money to fund family engagement through the Foundation’s Engagement Grant program or funds designated for family engagement. Because engaging families can be challenging, especially when there are language barriers or inflexible work schedules, several schools use the money to host evening events where families can access resources, get help in navigating school systems, and often, a meal which can be an added draw and help for families facing food insecurities.
For the last three years Ogden Elementary has hosted a “Winter Wonderland” event, incorporating a school-wide reading of a book to inspire the event’s activities and encourage at-home literacy with a copy of the book for each family. This year’s event followed themes in the book “Snowmen At Night” by Caralyn Buehner. Activities were set up throughout the area like a hot chocolate and cider station, lantern making and other crafts, a snow machine, photo booth, and a petting zoo. “Winter Wonderland brings so much joy and connection to our school community. Families gather to share the experience with the staff members and volunteers. Students were elated to read the book in their classrooms before Winter Wonderland and then receive their own copy to take home. The crafts, the petting zoo, the snow machine and the lighting created a magical event that will be remembered and thought of with great enthusiasm,” said Melissa Springer a teacher at Ogden who helped plan the event.
Last spring Ogden also organized a “Families around the world” event where over 650 people participated in culture-focused activities and viewed projects created by students to share about their own culture, or a culture they had researched. The event also included a dance performance by 3rd-5th grade creative movement students wearing traditional folkloric skirts and sashes.
Heights Campus, which houses several programs (VHC, Home School Support, Virtual Self-Contained, VLA, and Open Doors) and a diverse student population, has hosted a series of successful family engagement events utilizing Foundation grant funds; including a Garden Party and events focused on the arts and literacy. Their Multicultural Night involved families in organizing the event, hosting booths and bringing a cultural dish. Community members came and performed and staff participation was high.
“For a small school, this was a VERY successful event. All of our programs and age groups were represented along with many family members. We enjoyed being able to have families contribute in ways they chose and contribute to the depth of cultural diversity we have here at Heights. This was our biggest learning from our events this year…family engagement can look like what THEY choose to do to support an event,” said Associate Principal Kathleen Paradis.
Salmon Creek Elementary also hosted a Multicultural Family Night last year with booths and activities that highlighted cultures represented within the school’s community. The Kaleinani o ke Kukui Hawiian Cultural Center provided entertainment with live music and traditional dance, and families enjoyed a traditional Hawaiian dinner.
Engagement events are also an opportunity for families to connect with their school’s Family-Community Resource Coordinator, which can provide valuable insight into the ways the school can best support their student. Carla Feltz, VPS Family Engagement and Technical Assistance Coordinator, expressed the significance of this interaction, saying “Building relationships with families and connecting them to their student’s education is vital for student success. We love having families attend different events to have the opportunity to get to know them and learn how we can best serve their student.”
Another high-impact District program supported by the Foundation is “The Plaza” which invites families, many new to the community, to learn about available resources and opportunities, and get help to navigate the school system. While adults hear presentations or take English classes, children participate in age-appropriate academic activities led by teachers and paraeducators. The community meal offered during the events not only celebrates diverse cultures but also addresses food insecurity, providing families with a sense of belonging and stability. The program has grown over the years with about 60-70 people attending each event.
“Part of our district work has been to increase the sense of belonging students and families feel at school,” said Paradis. “At Heights, we took this seriously by inviting families to join us in creating learning and connecting experiences for ALL types of students and families in our community that spreads across VPS. We greatly appreciate the financial support of the Foundation and look forward to continued growth and engagement next year!”
Thanks to donors, the Foundation can help VPS foster positive relationships and support student success through family engagement. By implementing innovative strategies, VPS schools become an environment where families feel welcome, valued, and connected to their children’s education, helping contribute to a thriving school community and improved student outcomes.
Creating a greater sense of unity is often difficult to achieve in a larger school, but that was the mission of Minnehaha Elementary’s school-wide reading