The Power of Partnership: The Vital Role FRCs Can Play in Schools

By Fiona Lavelle, California Family Resource Association

A strong partnership between a school district and its local Family Resource Center (FRC) can help with early intervention and lead to improved outcomes for students. FRCs can open access to an array of supports for students and their families and schools are valuable resources for FRCs. The following success story contributed by an AmeriCorps member providing case management in a school-based Family Resource Center in northern California demonstrates the power of these partnerships.

From our first meeting, Angelica was a bubbly, energetic student, but she’d been struggling in school and needed some extra support. Because of the existing relationship her school had with our Family Resource Center, her school counselor knew about the services we could offer a student like Angelica, who was facing challenges both at home and at school. The counselor referred her to our center because she was in danger of failing Algebra and losing her spot in a college preparatory program, and she had a feeling that her foster parents could use some help too. Angelica began participating in mentoring sessions and afterschool tutoring at the Family Resource Center, in addition to the lunch groups I conducted on campus twice each week as part of the partnership between our center and the school district. In these group sessions, Angelica learned to express herself through art, poetry, and discussions.

Relieved to finally talk about the difficult experiences she was facing at home, she told me about abuse she had experienced in her childhood, the separation from her sister, and the troubled relationship with her foster mother. She also opened up about her difficulties in math class. She struggled to understand key concepts and had been failing homework and quizzes. Because of our center’s relationship with the school, I was able to stay in close communication with her teachers and counselors. Together we made sure that Angelica had the support she needed to be successful.

The center provided her with school supplies and together we organized her math binder. She started to get higher marks in her binder checks and homework assignments and her teachers commented about the difference in Angelica’s attitude as her confidence grew.

As her academic performance improved, my colleagues and I wanted to be sure that her foster parents were also supported. Although her foster parents could provide for her basic needs, they often struggled financially. I referred them to a program that granted funding for school-related activities for foster youth, and they were grateful to finally have field trip money, which enabled Angelica to attend two field trips to Six Flags and UC Berkeley.

She shared her aspirations of attending college and becoming a famous writer one day. Together we discussed the steps she needed to take to get there and created a blog where she could upload her stories.

Angelica wrote me a letter at the end of the school year; she said that because of my help, she had passed her math class and was able to successfully finish the year.

The success of this student can be attributed to the strength of the partnership between the school and its local Family Resource Center (FRC), in which school and center staffs could seamlessly coordinate resources and information. The school and FRC followed some key best practices:

  • The FRC was integrated into the school, which made it easy for Angelica’s counselor to refer her to the center for early intervention.
  • The FRC case manager worked with school staff in a team, which facilitated fluid communication between the case manager and Angelica’s teacher and school counselor.
  • The FRC played a central role in working with the family.
  • The FRC had a strong presence at the school site. By leading regular groups on campus, students were familiar with FRC staff and barriers to participation were reduced as the groups were held in a convenient location.

Family Resource Centers are community-based organizations that provide comprehensive family support services to children and their families. Centers work in deep partnership with parents, teachers, school officials, and a vast network of service providers to facilitate lasting personal and academic growth for students.

For more information and best practices on partnering with Family Resource Centers to support LCFF priorities, see CFRA’s chapter: Why Family Resource Centers Matter. Or visit CFRA online at CaliforniaFamilyResource.org.

Averting Crisis in Our Classrooms

By Alicia Rozum, California School-Based Health Alliance

Jared had been acting different. Typically an excellent student, he started falling asleep in class or putting his head down on the desk. He seemed “out of it”–that’s how his Chemistry teacher wrote it on the referral form to the high school’s comprehensive mental health program. As the school social worker managing this program, I decided the signs noticed by his teacher were enough to warrant scheduling an appointment that week.

However, within days, we received three more referrals for Jared — one from a friend who said Jared “seemed sad and lonely”; a second from his art teacher reporting that his work had lately been focused on death and destruction; and a final referral from Jared’s sister, who attended a different high school. His sister confided to her counselor that her brother had been talking about suicide. The counselor had the training to know that this was a serious risk and contacted me immediately.

Thanks to the willingness of all these referral sources — two high school teachers and two high school students–we were able to intervene immediately with Jared. We learned that he was, in fact, contemplating suicide and had a plan to kill himself that weekend.

We implemented our school’s crisis intervention protocols: Jared was assessed by a mental health professional, his family was contacted, and he was transported to the hospital for treatment. After his release from the hospital, Jared was paired with our on-site mental health therapist to receive ongoing counseling. Two years later, Jared graduated from high school and was on his way to college.

In many ways, the comprehensive mental health program on site at this high school helped save Jared’s life. The program had several components that made it successful:

  • All students had access, not just those in special education.
  • It was publicized to students through classroom trainings, activities, and posters around campus.
  • Teachers knew about it through professional development and consultation.
  • It offered crisis intervention, one-on-one counseling, and case management services on site.

Your school district can have services like this too! Student mental health is a big concern among educators, with over 20 percent of youth having a diagnosed mental health disorder. Many classroom behavioral issues, like acting out, poor self-regulation, and attention issues, are related to mental health concerns. With the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the increased focus on student engagement and school climate, mental health services in schools are a cost-effective way to increase attendance and reduce suspensions/expulsions.

Mental health professionals on campus also help schools prevent and address crises, train teachers in effective classroom strategies and how to support struggling students, and involve youth in delivering services that best meet their needs. To learn more about best practices for building comprehensive school-based mental health programs, check out Why Student Mental Health Matters or contact Alicia Rozum: arozum@schoolhealthcenters.org, Project Director, Mental Health, at the California School-Based Health Alliance.

Engaging Families from the Classroom Out

By Teneh Weller, High Expectations Parental Service

I remember being a new 5th grade teacher, full of excitement and hope. I had the opportunity, in some small way, to change the world. I had a vision that all of my students, no matter where they started out, would reach proficiency in reading and math. I envisioned that they would all go to college and be happy and productive citizens. The majority of my students were at least two years below grade level in reading and many of them had serious behavior challenges. But this did not deter my enthusiasm. I was committed to supporting each child’s success.

I was so excited to share this vision with my families at Back-to-School Night. I had my speech ready! I was going to start off with my vision for the students and then let the parents know how my classroom rules, procedures, and curriculum would help THEIR children reach MY vision.

Needless to say, the night did not go well. And many of my subsequent interactions with families did not go well either. I couldn’t understand it! I only wanted the best for their children. Why didn’t they want to partner with me? One evening, I was crying to my husband for the umpteenth time, and he asked me a question. “Did you ever bother asking the families what their vision is for their children?”

Asking that single question, “What is your vision for your child’s future?” shifted the way I engaged with families. When they told me that they wanted their child to be happy and go to college, it gave me the opportunity to provide the tools and resources needed to help them reach THEIR vision for THEIR child.

The most powerful relationship in a child’s education is between the family (the child expert) and the teacher (the content expert). The family brings a wealth of knowledge about their child and the community they live in. The family holds the vision for the child’s future. The teacher is the educational leader and knows the most about how the child is performing academically.

So often, family engagement staff, after-school coordinators, or the attendance clerks have the strongest relationships with families. School districts often invest in family liaisons and offer professional development to build their capacity. The school community then relies on the family liaison to engage all of the parents. Similarly, attendance clerks are typically responsible for communicating with families whose students are truant. They work to support families in increasing their child’s attendance. There is no doubt that these relationships are important but they cannot replace the partnership between “the child expert” and the “content expert”.
Because teachers do not have a lead role in the family engagement cast, most interactions with families are not linked to learning, and therefore do not support increased academic success.

73% of teachers surveyed in 2012 found it very challenging or challenging to engage parents in improving the education of students. (MetLife, 2012.)

It is during the family-teacher interactions that teachers can provide the families with detailed, targeted tools and resources that can support the child’s success in class. It is during these times that families can share information on how the child feels about school or how certain life experiences are impacting their ability to focus in class. The family and the teacher can sit down to identify interventions, strategies, and needed resources that will improve outcomes for the child both at home and at school. When families and teachers have this deeper relationship, they can then turn together to the other key community partners at the school for any additional supports to ensure that students have what they need to thrive developmentally and succeed academically.

Here are some proven strategies that support family engagement from the classroom out:

Share the Vision: Provide a space and time for families to share with the teacher their vision for their child’s future. What are their hopes and dreams for their child? How can the school support those hopes and dreams?

Dual-Capacity Building: Both families and teachers need tools and strategies for building strong partnerships. Schools must provide ongoing professional development for teachers to equip them to engage families in ways that lead to increased academic outcomes. Training will offer teachers strategies for engaging families in ways that do not add to their plates, but rather, strengthen their existing interactions.

Schools often offer opportunities for families to be involved at the school. The challenge is to ensure that those opportunities are linked to learning, foster strong relationships, and build the families’ capacity to support learning at home.

Develop an Action Plan: An effective way for families and teachers to partner is through the use of a Family-School Action Plan during parent-teacher conferences. What is powerful about this process is that the parent and teacher walk away from the meeting understanding exactly what they need to do to support the success of the child. This plan is used to:
1. Identify a child’s strengths and challenges in the areas of academics, behavior, or attendance
2. Set a short-term goal
3. Identify the role of the parent, teacher, and child in reaching the goal
4. Set a time for the parent and teacher to review progress and determine next steps

By the end of my first year of teaching, and throughout my ten years in the classroom, I asked families to share their vision for their child’s future. I made sure that during every meeting or event, I provided families with easy-to-use tools that they could implement with their child and see immediate results. It was key to my success as a teacher and key to the success of my students.

The most effective forms of parent involvement are those which engage parents in working directly with their children on learning activities at home.
(Cotton, K., Wikelund, K., Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, School Improvement Research Series, Parent Involvement in Education.)

For more information on best practices around family engagement that puts teachers and families at the center of your efforts, as well as some tips for how to think about this in an LCFF/LCAP context, see the chapter I co-authored, Why Family Engagement Matters, on the California Community Schools Network website.

The Case for Community Schools

When I began my professional career in education I was only seventeen, counseling bilingual newcomer students from Central America at a Community College in Southern California. That experience catapulted me into a deep understanding of what happens when the necessary conditions for learning are undone by war, trauma, hunger, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, poverty, crime, unemployment, and all manner of structural inequities a society might experience.

Over the decades as a teacher, counselor, administrator, and philanthropist, I’ve seen every major education reform initiative this state and country have devised since the first elementary and secondary education act, and I will be the first to tell any audience that most of the reforms — which ignored things we now consider the necessary conditions for learning like a responsive and motivating instructional core, robust family and community engagement, and a basic level of physical, mental, and emotional health — struggled, lost funding, and were overturned by the next generation of reformers.

In the 1960’s and 70’s we made great headway with the civil rights movement, bilingual education, affirmative action, instructional aides, school nurses, school social workers, eight weeks of extended summer learning, and lots of free afterschool enrichment across the country. By the 1980’s California had suffered the loss of many of these programs under Prop 13, and by the early 1990’s “A Nation at Risk” warned that the country would suffer the loss of over 25% of our gross domestic product if we did not address the emerging crisis in education.

With little or no general public funding left to address the necessary conditions for learning, the initiative process in California gave us Healthy Start, Family Preservation and Support, First Five, mental health in schools, and vast afterschool programming, too many of which were designed as short-term grants that required annual renewals and proof of sustainability rather than the ongoing funding we know the neediest schools must have consistently. These investments, while important, didn’t go far enough, and the warnings of “A Nation at Risk” became a reality.

Since the 1990’s we have been trying to re-create the necessary conditions for learning so that every child has an equitable opportunity to thrive. The national community schools movement has grown dramatically since then in the interest of this charge, and California has champions of this movement in many places and at many levels. Here and now, with local control funding and increasing recognition of the importance of educating the “whole child”, we have enormous opportunities to ensure every child comes to school ready and able to learn, with the whole range of supports and opportunities they need and deserve. It is in this spirit that we welcome you to the California Community Schools Network. Like a community school itself, this Network and new website are not just a set of services, but a new approach and a powerful new way to connect our community. We look forward to connecting with you, and thank you for being a part of the community!

Lisa R. Villarreal,
California Native
Board Member, Partnership for Children and Youth
Steering Committee Chair, Coalition for Community Schools

Welcome to the California Community Schools Network!

We’re excited to be rolling out a new online network to connect every level of community schools work in California. We wanted to create an informal space for community members, educators, practitioners, administrators, and policymakers to come together, share information, and think comprehensively about supporting our students.

California has years of experience doing community schools work. We’ve been working hard to address the achievement gap by better using public resources to ensure that not only basic needs are met, but that each student has the opportunity to grow and reach his or her full potential.

But much of this ‘know-how’ and its impact has flown under the radar. We created this website to facilitate discussion and information sharing, as well as to highlight the good work taking place across the state. We believe that you – the local practitioners, educators, and policymakers – hold key resources and expertise that will benefit others working on community school development and improvement. We want this site to function as a social networking tool, specifically geared toward those who know and understand the importance of this work – whether you’re already running an exemplary program or have come across road blocks and need some advice or questions answered.

Join the Network and be part of the conversation!
Get on the map to showcase your district or community-wide efforts
Ask a question or start a conversation in the forum
Add an event to the calendar
Add a resource to the library and highlight it in the forum
Find a resource in the library and rate it
Submit a blog post

We hope that we can work together to share best practices and provide each other with the right tools to enhance this work in each of our communities. So go ahead, test out the site. We’d love to hear what you think!

Sincerely,
Deanna Niebuhr
Senior Director, Community Schools Initiative
Partnership for Children and Youth
deanna@partnerforchildren.org