This month and next month we are featuring a 2-part story on family engagement at Strawberry Mansion High School in North Philadelphia! Through this past year that all of us have had to stay physically isolated, one’s assumption would be that people would have less interaction with one another and feel more separated. However, at Strawberry Mansion, we can see how school staff have been reaching out to families to keep them connected. Family Engagement Liaison Victoria Trower states: “Mansion has really elevated their outreach even further with really creative and caring ways to let families know they are not alone…” during digital learning. Ms. Ameera Sullivan, the school counselor at Strawberry Mansion also says, “Since March, our parent engagement has gone through the roof.” During the digital learning season, Principal Brian McCracken and school staff have been utilizing a variety of ways to engage families. Here are some creative ways that the Strawberry Mansion staff members have been reaching out to family members!
Phone Calls and Messaging With Families
- Teachers have been making more efforts to make positive phone calls home so that there would be increased interaction with family members with positive news. Rather than only getting negative phone calls, families have been able to hear affirmations and good news about their students.
- Some family members asked if there was some way they could get wake-up calls for their students. Due to this feedback, the climate team started doing morning wake-up calls for students to make sure they would attend virtual classes. The climate staff has also been calling students directly when there are any attendance or general issues.
- Families can take pictures of doctors’ notes and excused absence notes so that teachers can keep track of where students are, and it’s an easier way for parents to send teachers this information.
- Families are able to reach out to teachers through classroom apps, text messages, emails, or phone calls.
Home Visits With Families
- Principal McCracken has personally gone to students’ homes to visit them. Specifically for students who may have had low attendance, Principal McCracken has been doing home visits to check in on students and find out what kind of support they may need.
- The climate team members have also visited students at home to check-in and support students.
- Staff members have been holding sessions to teach parents skills such as how to use zoom, how to use email or text, etc. Staff members have been trying to gauge what type of skills parents need to be taught or exposed to such as learning how to check grades and progress on the Parent Portal and using this information to hold information sessions and workshops.
- Ms. Trower provides services for family members every Friday for Parent Portal training, the Volunteer Orientation workshop, and addressing general questions and concerns about school policy, COVID-19 news, and other District information.
Updates Through Social Media
- School staff has been ensuring that the school’s Facebook, website, and Instagram pages have stayed updated with the latest information as well as celebrations of student work and achievements.
- Ms. Sullivan, the school counselor, has also been able to connect with students through popular platforms such as Instagram and to give students a place to message with emergencies or urgent requests.
- Right before spring break, every student was able to receive brand-new sneakers in partnership with a sneaker company.
- Families have also been able to receive healthy food care packages during these difficult times.
The list of strategies may go on and on, but what is truly notable is the heart behind these strategies. Principal Brian McCracken has taken the approach of asking himself and his school staff: “If this was your child, what would you want to see?” With this type of mindset, the school staff has been working hard to give that level of support to families. The support and excitement of Principal McCracken and the school administration have played a vital role in rolling out all of these new initiatives. Family Engagement Liaison Victoria Trower explains that if the administration is not invested in the School Advisory Council (SAC) or family engagement at the school, then nothing tangible will occur. However, at Strawberry Mansion, Ms. Trower attests to witnessing how information is parceled out through various forms of communication, and the feedback that families give is then used to provide strategies and solutions to problems. Ms. Trower says, “It goes back to everyone being on the same page–families can be invested because staff members can be invested.”
The way that some of these engagement strategies have come about has been through direct feedback from family members. Strawberry Mansion’s administration has shown the way that they are willing to have open, listening ears. During online learning, the number of parents who have been attending conferences has actually increased. The positive phone calls, home visits, etc. have contributed positively to families feeling that there is a space to give feedback about their needs during this time as well. Even during meetings with family members, Principal McCracken is intentional to make his presentations palatable for families by including visuals, videos, clips, and showing footage from events that have happened. Ms. Trower shares that at Strawberry Mansion “the message that the principal and each staff member gives is the same across the board” and there there is “a roundtable approach to problems and everyone comes to the table with solutions in a positive way in order to contribute to the problems.”
There is much evidence of the ways that the Strawberry Mansion administration and school staff have stepped in to carefully listen to families’ feedback and apply that to brainstorm strategies for further achievement and progress for students. This type of listening and applying has been a productive and meaningful way for the Strawberry Mansion team to stay connected with and help their families through this challenging year.