Education leaders spent four days learning about family engagement in Cambridge, Mass., and are now planning a similar workshop to be held in the Seattle area next summer.

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Parents in South King County, after attending a symposium at Harvard University in July, are working to increase and improve the ways parents can be involved in their children’s schools.

A group of 68 parents, educators, district administrators and community activists from seven school districts spent four days in Cambridge, Mass., at Harvard’s Family Engagement in Education program. This is the second consecutive year that a delegation from the region has gone to Harvard.  The group was organized by the Community Center for Education Results (CCER), a nonprofit that aims to dramatically improve student achievement in seven school districts through an effort called the Road Map Project.

One of the next steps in CCER’s parent engagement efforts is a “local Harvard” workshop that would be held in the Seattle area sometime next summer and involve 200-250 people.  Anthony Shoecraft, CCER’s family and community engagement director, said that members of this year’s delegation will share what they learned at Harvard and work to build more consistent parent engagement efforts around the state. The University of Washington has expressed interest in hosting the event, Shoecraft said, and Harvard may send a representative.

Family engagement leaders from the Seattle area listen to Harvard education professor Karen Mapp. (Photo courtesy Anthony Shoecraft.)
Family engagement leaders from the Seattle area listen to Harvard education professor Karen Mapp. (Photo courtesy Anthony Shoecraft.)

“It’s really about scaling up promising practices” with family engagement, Shoecraft said. “There’s a huge regional demand for it.”

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Those who traveled to Harvard this year included representatives the Seattle, Highline, Auburn, Renton, Kent, Federal Way and Tukwila school districts. The cost was $260,000, paid for by the school districts and a federal Race to the Top grant that they won in 2012.

At Harvard, the participants attended 15 workshops on topics ranging from home visits to identity development in adolescents. Once back home, the participants have met to come up with ideas that they’d like to pursue here. Among their ideas: a district-specific directory of community organizations that serve schools and families; a parent-led forum on the needs of immigrant communities; and ways to help parents help their children with the transition from elementary to middle school.

At a recent meeting, the participants from Federal Way said some of their biggest takeaways from the conference were the need for more up-front conversations about race and culture — and the need for more district staff who can adequately communicate with immigrant families. Emiliano Sanchez, a parent who serves as a family liaison at Panther Lake Elementary School in Federal Way, said the trip to Harvard provided an opportunity for district officials and parents to talk to one another without the sense of hierarchy that sometimes overshadows school meetings.

“We were all students together, learning something new,” Sanchez said.