Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.
We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.
Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.
When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!
Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).
Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”
We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.
Discussing the takeaways on the ride home
As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we learned from the experience:
1. Face to face contact with caring teachers
2. First impressions are made everyday
3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues
4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend
5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too
6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community
7. Have designated places to recognize students
Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.