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Kidsburgh And Brookings Institute Start Project To Increase Family-School Engagement

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and teachers got a greater insight into the challenges each faced, but how can that empathy and connection last?

Kidsburgh and the Brookings Institute are undertaking a major project to increase family-school engagement called "Parents as Allies", and it's already making a difference.

Schools often provide opportunities for parents to get involved, but are they really engaged?

Yu-Ling Behr, a Kidsburgh ambassador, said, "Engagement is where you start by listening first, instead of telling them what to do, and you digest those ideas. Then, you work together to find a solution, and by going through that process, you gain a partner."

This fall, Kidsburgh led discussion groups at 10 different school districts with anywhere from 20 to 100 people. The sessions got parents and educators thinking and talking about "What is the purpose of education?" and "How can parents engage in their child's education?"

Parents want different things, like one parent who wants her LGBTQ family more reflected in the classroom.

"It's important for teachers to take the time to really get to understand the children in their classroom and what their family life looks like so they can better incorporate those different types of families in the lessons they're teaching," said one of the parents Kidsburgh interviewed at its sessions.

Another parent said, "That (my son) becomes a self-sufficient adult. He's able to make his own decisions, the right decisions, without me because I'm not going to be here forever."

Each of the 10 school districts came up with ideas to improve family-school engagement and got a $3,000 grant to help implement them.

Avonworth Schools held an event celebrating holidays from different cultures in the community -- Ramadan, Day of the Dead and Lunar New Year. Northgate Schools created a breakfast for parents and the principal.

In Hopewell, the district is using the grant money to buy books to diversify their library. And the New Brighton School District is working on opportunities for dads to engage more.

"Sometimes schools need extra funding to make these ideas happen," Behr said, "and so we want to help provide these mini-grants and help them document the process and try something new that they might not have tried."

And this is just the beginning. Kidsburgh is leading discussions at 25 more school districts across southwest Pennsylvania over the next two years.

You can learn much more and offer your own thoughts in a webinar about the project on Jan. 26 from 7 to 7:45 p.m. It will be moderated by KDKA's Kristine Sorensen. You can learn more and register here.

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