Devin Pegues wants to go to MIT and study electrical engineering. His sister Ericka is hoping to attend medical school at Rice University. In a couple years, the junior and sophomore at Federal Way High School and TAF Academy may see their dreams come true thanks to a lot of hard work and plenty of help from their mother, Penny Howard, who is a graduate of Federal Way Public Schools’ Parent Leadership Institute.
The Parent Leadership Institute is one limb of a multi-armed approach that FWPS has taken in its focus of engaging more South King County parents as partners in their children’s education—a practice that numerous studies show can produce better test scores, more effective schools and, ultimately, more successful students. The program begins with a “Partnership 101” booklet or workshop, which includes the creation of a short involvement plan that parents and students fill out together. The plan covers parents’ education goals for students, questions for teachers and administrators, and a host of partnership ideas parents and students can discuss to promote a long-term vision for success from cradle to career.
The workshop and booklet, however, are only the start. Once the plan is laid out, parents like Howard get dedicated support from a broad network of parents and staff team members dedicated to helping them see the goals they laid out on paper become reality.
“My involvement helps secure more success for them,” Howard said. “And I’ve seen people who don’t have that involvement, and the system often doesn’t work for them.”
Howard’s notion that students with involved parents are at an advantage over their peers is backed up by the Harvard Family Research Project, which, in 2004, looked at 129 schools around the country and found a 4.5% increase in students’ standardized test scores in schools where a comprehensive parent-engagement program was in place.
In 2009, the Harvard Family Research Project profiled FWPS as being one of six school districts around the country that have a fully realized parent-engagement approach that includes a decision-making Parent Advisory team. In particular, the researchers noted the district’s hiring of a full-time family partnership director, who works directly with parents to make them “informed, prepared and involved” in their students’ progress. In this case, Trise Moore, a 22-year education veteran, is that director and has been for 10 years.
Moore’s job is to recognize that parents can often be an untapped resource, and develop ways to promote opportunities for them to be engaged in their children’s education that are linked to academics and meaningful to them.
“We invite parents to facilitate conversations with each other, with teachers and with their children,” Moore said. “Teachers may change from year to year, but parents remain with their children from cradle to career.”
While Howard’s two children are in high school and already thinking about college, younger students benefit equally from having a parent or guardian active in their education.
Grace and Charles Ssebugwawo have four children, ages 13, 11, 5 and 1. Both parents are graduates of the district’s Parent Leadership Institute and all three of their school-age kids have benefitted from the help that their parents provide at home. The parent-engagement program has been so rewarding, in fact, that Grace Ssebugwawo has gone on to a leadership role and now actively recruits other parents to join.
Leadership roles on the district level within the institute are awarded to 12 to 16 new parents per quarter who show an interest in improving the program overall. Such parents meet with Moore every two months and play key roles in making decisions about activities connected to the institute. They also help plan various district and school-level activities, in addition to quarterly Collective Impact meetings for a variety of stakeholders throughout the school year.
“I work with other parents all the time,” Grace Ssebugwawo said. “I try to take what I learn and use it in my own home and then show them how to do it. Everyone benefits that way.”