At Overbrook Educational Center (OEC) there is a mission that the school abides by: “Own our actions, Put forth our best effort to excel, and Care for all.” These pillar
values are apparent even in the family engagement work that is happening at OEC. This past fall, OEC won the Family School Partnership Award, and the school’s core values have really shone through. Caroline Robinson, a Community Partnerships Coordinator VISTA at OEC says, “I’ve been a staff member at Overbrook Educational Center for five weeks now, but it only took five minutes for me to realize that this school is special.”
Right off the bat, one thing that makes OEC’s population of students special is that slightly under one-third of the student population is blind or visually impaired. At OEC,
the staff and leaders of the school believe strongly that all students need to be cared for in all aspects of their learning. The school has a purposefully designed vision program that is led by a team of specially trained staff who have had experience working with children who have vision deficiencies. In conjunction with the effort that teachers and staff members put in, Ms. Robinson says that families also “have to be willing to put in that effort and really care about their child’s education.” Caroline emphasized the fact that when families care and school staff care, they’ll be able to partner better together and be in a positive cycle of caring for a child’s learning.
One of the strongest assets at Overbrook Educational Center that is emphasized by many parents is communication. There is constant communication with families–and there are many different media used to communicate. Even if a child is absent just for one day, a phone call will go home to make sure that everything is okay with the child and at home. Another medium to stay connected is social media–there is an online newsletter that gets distributed from Principal Meredith Foote to families. Within the newsletter there are things such as a gratitude list of things to be thankful for and best school practices seen from the past week. There are also consistent Instagram posts that will highlight things happening at the school. Another big form of communication is OEC’s open door policy through which parents can visit classrooms and see what is going on for themselves.
OEC’s open-door policy has been something that parents and families greatly appreciate. OEC hosts Parent Breakfasts, where they offer food for families and a chance for school leadership and families to enjoy a meal together. During the meal, they discuss academic goals and objectives that parents can look for in the classroom. After the breakfast, family members can head to their child’s classroom to observe and look out for activities and instruction that clearly align with the academic goals of the school. Family members will record what they notice and share strengths as well as areas for improvement that then gets shared with teachers. This type of transparency to what is going on in classrooms has sent a clear message to parents that the school values the opinions of parents and welcomes them into the school.
Not only do parents have access to classrooms, but they also have access to the principal. Tanea Hoilett, parent and Home and School President at OEC says that she believes having a relationship with school staff is very important. She shared that over the years, Principal Foote’s open door policy has really helped to foster positive relationship. Ms. Hoilett says, “You can have Ms. Foote’s contact information which gives you a sense of security and comfort…This makes you want to be there…The atmosphere is good. You feel welcome when you come…” Ms. Quiana Cotten-Davis, a regular parent volunteer at OEC says that at every Back-to-School night early in the school year, Principal Foote talks about her open-door policy. Parents can set up meetings with the principal and teachers whenever they’d like, and the principal even distributes her personal cell phone number so that situations can be discussed directly with her. Ms. Cotten-Davis agrees that such access to the principal opens the door for parents to feel more welcome to contribute. The open communication with the staff and principal is something that OEC parents greatly value.
OEC’s open communication and open-door policy have funneled ways for parents to get even more involved at the school. Ms. Hoilett explains that the School Advisory Council (SAC) is currently working on initiatives that would make parents feel even more welcomed to SAC and HSA meetings such as fancier paper invitations. The SAC has been utilizing social media to really try and spread the word about parent engagement at OEC. Ms. Hoilett says, “It is good to be involved so that you know what’s going on and so that you can be in the know at all times.” Ms. Cotten-Davis says that even if you can’t come into your child’s school for an extended time, at OEC each classroom also has different volunteering opportunities such as coming in for a short period to read a book to the children. Ms. Cotten-Davis emphasized that as long as you’re willing to be involved, there’s no limit for your involvement!
Both Ms. Hoilett and Ms. Cotten-Davis have been impacted by the atmosphere and environment at OEC. Ms. Hoilett says that she sees a great partnership amongst parents, staff, and students: “When you get there, you feel like a part of the family. You feel welcomed by the staff, the principal herself…You feel like you matter and what you have to say matters.” This type of warm, welcoming environment has kept Ms. Hoilett involved for years. Ms. Cotten-Davis, who has also volunteered at OEC very regularly, has a word of advice for all families: “Find out your school’s means of communication and then find out how you’re able to assist…Nothing is more fulfilling than knowing that where you are and where you are committed to will ultimately have so much effect on your child.”
In terms of future directions, Caroline says that she would love to see parent breakfasts continue and even expand so that they could offer parents meals not only in the morning but also in the evening so that more parents can attend. Caroline shared that she hopes in the future, more parents will attend the parent walk-throughs and come in to visit classrooms. Caroline also hopes that many parents will get involved in OEC’s MLK Day celebration so that many in the community can participate in this day of service together. On top of the already existing parent engagement successes at OEC, the staff and parents of OEC look forward to even more partnership and community-building to come!