An old saying states that it takes a village to raise a child. At Chester A. Arthur School in Graduate Hospital, it is evident that it takes the efforts of an entire community to have vibrant parent and family engagement. There is a strong sense of all hands on deck at Chester Arthur, which allows for many voices to be heard, new initiatives to break through, and events that can bring people together to take place. This year, The Office of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) awarded Chester Arthur the Family-School Partnership Award to acknowledge the school’s family engagement efforts. One can see the collaboration that happens amongst family members at the school who have embraced the school as their own community and care about the betterment of the school at large.
Principal Dr. Mary Libby professes that what makes family engagement special at Chester Arthur is the “diversity of parent involvement” and the way that, “those who have been living in the community and have community knowledge” contribute to the team. Families are willing to give their resources such as time, money, and energy to work together for the school. There are retired teachers and librarians who will come in and volunteer at the school as well as a myriad of other volunteers with various occupations. The Friends of Chester Arthur (FoCA) group is also dedicated to obtaining new resources for further family engagement at the school and making sure that learning doesn’t stop at school. Dr. Libby says, “As a school, we welcome a diversity of parent engagement and parents to bring their strengths.”
Not only do members of the community bring their passions and strengths, there is also an understanding and culture where people can contribute as much as they are able to. Parent Rebecca Schmidt, one of the co-chairs of the Home and School Association (along with Carolyn Kaufman) shares that volunteers at Chester Arthur volunteer at different levels, and no matter the amount of participation, it’s great to see growing numbers of parents help out amidst the busyness of being a parent and managing many responsibilities. Ms. Schmidt shares about a variety of ways to get involved: student-of-the-month breakfasts, fun day, movie nights, supporting students as they take the PSSAs, 8th grade move-up, Kindergarten move-up, schoolyard jams, pizza parties, charity events, volunteering in individual classrooms, being a parent liaison for your child’s class to be in charge of logistics, and more. No matter what the event, you can see many people work together to make it happen at Chester Arthur! Dr. Libby says: “We don’t exist without the collective.”
Families who have gotten involved at Chester Arthur share Dr. Libby’s collaborative spirit. Parent Professor Deena Weisberg attests to the fact that what makes family engagement special at Chester Arthur is that people feel very connected to the school and don’t just feel like a number. Ms. Schmidt says that “the Arthur community is a small community” and the members “see personal benefit to building relationship.”
Professor Weisberg shares that people can and want to bring their own expertise to the table. As a parent of a first grader at Chester Arthur, Professor Weisberg has also been working with Dr. Libby to contribute her psychological expertise to inform the programming offered at the school and strategic plans to move forward. The collaboration between families and school staff is a powerful vehicle to consistently improve practices at Chester Arthur.
Dr. Libby envisions even further development and growth for family engagement moving forward. She says that she would like to host more math and science community events to provide opportunities for children and families to come together and address issues in math and science as a family. She wants to challenge parents to embrace the productive struggle that comes with engaging in difficult math problems and learn how to walk through that process with a child. Professor Weisberg says that Chester Arthur’s SAC has focused on making sure that learning does not stop at the school doors, but continues at home.
As Dr. Libby finds new ways to collaborate and deepen relationships with her Chester Arthur family members, she says for all families: “Don’t be afraid to go to the school and express your strengths to the school…Your participation is never an imposition.” It is obvious that parents at Chester Arthur share in this sentiment. Ms. Schmidt says, “Whatever level of support you have the capacity to give will never be too little. It’s always welcome and always appreciated. Sometimes it’s appreciated in ways you might not be able to see in the immediate moment.” We can learn so much from Chester Arthur and the way that every stakeholder comes together to build an engaged school community!