Family School Partnership Award Winner: Abram S. Jenks School

The Office of Family and Community Engagement awarded Abram S. Jenks School in South Philadelphia with the Family School Partnership Award this past October. A.S. Jenks models what family engagement can look like in a school–organic, innovative, and heartfelt.


Representatives from A.S. Jenks accept the Family School Partnership Award from Superintendent Dr. William Hite and Comcast Region Vice President, Community Investment, Robert F. Smith

Family engagement at A.S. Jenks looks very different today than what it looked like even a few years ago. The change came about in a very organic way–as a response to a need. Jenks Principal, Siouda Douglas, explains that about four years ago, she noticed that there were more multilingual families joining the Jenks School community. She observed as the Indonesian population increased significantly, and then in a short span of time, the Chinese population outgrew the Indonesian one. Principal Douglas began to feel like she was not reaching parents through the modes of communication that they were used to, especially because of language and cultural barriers.

Around four years ago, Ms. Douglas had an Indonesian-born parent who was very active in volunteering, so she asked if they would be willing to serve as a liaison between the school and the school’s Indonesian families. Principal Douglas began to have meetings with the parent liaison to give her information and hear feedback from her about what the Indonesian parent community was feeling and thinking. As Ms. Douglas found a channel of communication open up between herself and the Indonesian community, she then started having the same type of meeting with a parent from Algeria who spoke Arabic.

Ms. Douglas then had the idea to replace her coffee times with the principal with meetings with all of the different ethnic populations within her school. Little did she know at the time what a widespread initiative these targeted meetings would become and how many future project these meetings would lead to. It’s evident how organically this type of parent participation came about–as a response to a gap in communication; the voices of parents were heard and honored. Eleanor DeSimone, a parent, SAC member, and Home and School President at A.S. Jenks, says, “I think parent engagement is special at Jenks because parents are not only welcomed, but encouraged to be involved and to share their ideas.” And the sharing of parent ideas has evolved into many new initiatives.


Family engagement at A.S. Jenks is not only organic but also very innovative. The staff has not stayed with one static method of engagement but has tried many new ways. Ms. Jennifer Formiglia-Jackson, Secretary at A.S. Jenks stated that, “the ‘old-fashioned’ way to get parents involved and engaged was to send home a letter along with a permission slip, then wait a day or two for a response.” However, she shared that things have drastically changed at Jenks with the usage of technology that can reach families more quickly and by thinking outside of the box of the traditional letter home.

Principal Siouda Douglas with teachers and families in November. Photo Credit: Dale Mezzacappa/Philadelphia Public School Notebook

The most unique and innovative way that families have been engaged at A.S. Jenks has been through cultural celebrations. Principal Douglas started to sit down with parents of different ethnic groups in order to know and understand their cultures and backgrounds better. She wanted to understand how to include different families and make them want to come into the school to participate in what was going on. Hence, the school began to host cultural celebrations on a school-wide level to teach students, staff, and families about different cultures.

A.S. Jenks has seen many different cultural celebrations that have mobilized larger percentages of the parent population to volunteer and help out. During Algerian Revolution Day, parents donated all of the ingredients needed to make couscous and other foods. Students learned about the history of the country, learned words in Arabic, and had a school-wide assembly that taught about and celebrated Algerian Revolution Day. During Hispanic Heritage Month, students learned how to salsa dance during physical education classes. They also had a school-wide salsa event, in which parents came in and cut vegetables with Principal Douglas. The students also had a math and reading lesson in class about how to make salsa. These cultural celebrations have been received very positively by the school community. Eleanor DeSimone says, “As a parent I am so happy my children are able to have these experiences and am glad to be a part of this amazing school family.”

This past year, the most recent initiative that the school is taking is to provide an English class for parents whose first language is not English. School leaders are in the process of obtaining resources to offer ongoing conversational English speaking classes for parents. Principal Douglas says that she would love to see parents not only attend these English classes but more parents take the reign to actually help teach these classes.


Lastly, the family engagement at A.S. Jenks is by no means robotic but exists to deeply connect with families. The sincere and heartfelt approach to family engagement by the staff is met very warmly by the school community. Ms. Formiglia-Jackson says, “Anything we need here, we can count on our parents to step up. We all have the same goal in mind, and that’s to make their child’s elementary school experience as positive as possible.”

The partnership between parents and school staff is held with importance and care at Jenks. Principal Douglas expressed: “We want parents to know that we want them here and want to celebrate who they are.” As parents have felt included in the community, Ms. Douglas has noticed an increase in both attendance and parental support. When asked her thoughts about family engagement at Jenks, Eleanor DeSimone said, “Family engagement is so important. I believe that when children see their parents involved in their education it helps them realize how important it is.”

One can see how parents and the school have been taking a hand-in-hand approach for each child’s growth and school experience. Principal Douglas and staff really want to engage with families, not out of obligation but out of heartfelt care. Ms. Douglas initially started having parents meetings because she “didn’t want to make assumptions about what [parents] wanted to be a part of, but [she] wanted to understand them better.” As she continued to respond to parent desires and voices, A.S. Jenks’ beloved cultural celebrations began, and the school has seen increased unity and growth through them. Principal Douglas, staff, and families look forward to see how family and school partnership can expand and grow into the future!