Parent and family engagement is a struggle faced by youth-serving programs everywhere. Just getting parents in the door can seem like an insurmountable first step. How do we get our families involved in the programming happening for their youth during after school and weekends? How do we entice them to volunteer and participate? How do we even find meaningful programming that meets their own needs? These are questions we’ve asked ourselves at Leadership for years. We certainly haven’t found any magic elixir that works every time, but we have discovered ten tips that help us to effectively get our families to walk in the door.
- Determine Their Interests
Survey your families at the beginning of the school year to learn what they need. Discover what they’d like, where and when they can participate, and how to best communicate with them. Ask them what times are best for them to be involved. Ask them what they’d like to see their students doing. The more you know, the better you can prepare—AND, your parents will feel heard and cared for from the start.
- Remember the Atmosphere
Create a welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere any time families enter your building, whether it is to pick up their child, attend a teacher meeting or take a workshop. The more welcoming the atmosphere, the more your families will enjoy spending time with you—and the more likely they are to come back again. Could you have a small coffee/water station set up in a corner for parents to enjoy at any time? Could you create an immediately visible bulletin board or wall display that clearly showcases any important information your parents might need to know (rather than relying on it going home in the students’ backpacks)? Could the same board also show highlights and pictures of your students in action?
- Schedule Mindfully
Think about how you are scheduling opportunities for families to be engaged and involved in your programming. Know that families juggle multiple jobs, multiple children, and other obligations. Try to diversify the times that engagement opportunities are offered: mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends should all be considered. Schedule enrichment opportunities for families so that they coincide with other activities happening in the school that they might already be attending. (For example, PTA meeting, concert, awards assembly, etc.)
- Know Your Community
Ensure your program content is relevant and accessible for the families you serve. If your community serves a multitude of nationalities, consider a multi-cultural food celebration honoring each ethnic community. If there is a high percentage of parents that speak English as a second language, see if you have staff who can offer ESL classes for families at the conclusion of youth programming. Make sure your materials are printed in the language of the families you serve. Honor holidays or other special events celebrated by your families. The more you extend a hand of understanding, the more your families will feel your care for them.
- Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
Successful family engagement takes ongoing and specific communication efforts. Create engaging and colorful flyers for students to bring home, but also hang those flyers in the places around the community where your families go—churches, grocery stores, laundromats, etc. Construct a parent phone or text chain so families can remind each other of upcoming events. Hand event information out at PTO/PTA meetings. Make announcements over the school’s loud speaker at the end of the day to remind students to remind their families of upcoming events. The more times and ways you communicate, the better your chances of families showing up.
- Go the Extra Mile
Do your best to provide solutions for any economic obstacles (food, child care, resources) that may make it challenging for parents or families to attend school workshops and events. Can you have a local grocery store donate snacks? Are their high school students that need service hours who can babysit younger children in a separate room? Can you have local businesses offer gift cards that you can provide as raffles or incentives to families who attend? Is there a bank that might sponsor an event, and offer a free financial planning workshop for families? Might a local bus company volunteer one of their buses to transport families to an event? Engaging your community is an effective way to more meaningfully engage your parents.
- Staff It Well
If the families took the time out of their busy day to show up for an event you’ve planned, make sure it is worth their time. Provide an engaging, dynamic facilitator for family workshops and events: one who is familiar with the community, well-versed on the topic being addressed, and can speak the primary language of the participants. Make sure there are staff available to show families where to go, answer questions, and offer support.
- Involve the Students
Design opportunities for students and their parents to participate together in workshops or events, to increase family bonding and build a strong school-based community. Maybe you could offer a parent/student yoga class or have a parent vs student basketball game. Additionally, involve your students by having them lead workshops for their parents. Have they been taking a dance class? Have them teach a dance class for parents! And of course, make sure there are plenty of opportunities to showcase your students so that their families have the chance to see what they’ve been working on—performances, galleries, and award ceremonies are fantastic ways to get the families into the building.
- Find Leaders
Encourage leadership opportunities for the parents in your community—could they be a guest presenter, speaking about a topic of expertise? Could they act as a translator? Could they host an event or lead a committee? The more your families feel responsible for the programming you are offering, the more engaged they will be—and oftentimes, they’ll bring a friend or two along next time.
We are great about celebrating our students, but how much are we celebrating our families? At the end of the year, why not host a celebration ceremony for your parents? Provide certificates and ceremonies to recognize your parent community achievements. Display their artwork, distribute an award for outstanding volunteer work, award a certificate for frequent attendance at workshops or one for achieving their personal goals through the enrichment opportunities you have offered. Let your students honor their parents and share something they’ve appreciated about them during the year.
While there is no single trick that works to recruit families into engaging with your programming, we think that by simply being as thoughtful and intentional about your parents as you are about your students, you will go a long way in making them feel valued, heard, and welcomed. That’s what we all want in the end, isn’t it?
Have any family recruitment success stories or challenges? Share them in the comments section below or Tweet to @Leadershipin
We’d love to hear your best practices and help you troubleshoot your problem areas.
"How To Recruit Parents, and Do It Effectively", The Leadership Program, Inc. 2016