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A City Education: Engaging Families Ensures Student Achievement

It really does takes a village to raise a child.

I can honestly say that if my parents did not take an active role in my education, I wouldn't have made it where I am today. It takes a lot of time, energy, and sacrifices to understand what a child needs and know the best ways to support them. I am forever grateful to my family for their dedication to my success. I know that I am one of the lucky ones.

In communities across the nation where City Year teams serve, parents often struggle just to make ends meet. In Chicago's Greater Grand Crossing community, where Dulles School of Excellence is located, 30 percent of households are single-mother households. This, combined with other socioeconomic challenges makes it understandable the last thing on a parent's mind is his or her child’s Algebra homework.

Lack of family participation in the education space is undoubtedly a multi-faceted issue that isn't easily resolved, but here at City Year, we do our best to make it a priority for our corps members. Throughout the school year, we plan and execute multiple strategies for keeping parents and guardians up to date on challenges and successes of their students.

This month, my team hosted our first Family Engagement Night, an event that took place during report card pick-up for the first grading period. We invited families to join our City Year family (which we named "the Smiths") for rotations of math games with real-life applications, such as adding tax and tipping, balancing a checkbook, and using fractions to equally slice pizza (and then eating it!)

One corps member, Ms. Bell, said, "It was really cool being able to work with my students' family members. Finally, we both got to put names to faces and talk about their children's performance, all in a fun setting."

Beyond events such as these, corps members make daily phone calls home to check in with parents about why their student isn't at school that day or how the parent can best help his or her child with an assignment. We also call to simply share the joy of a student improving behavior during lunchtime.

Ms. Nunez, who serves in the eighth grade, has had difficulty with one student whom she works with to set goals and accountability for school attendance. "'Michael' was one of my toughest students. It had gotten to the point where I had to give him his space and simply circle present, tardy, or absent," she said.

Ms. Nunez tried multiple strategies for getting through to Michael and was convinced she was having no impact. But that changed when she called his dad and heard this: "My son talks about you all the time. He says you are still there checking in on him even though he tries to shove you away."

After having this conversation with Michael's dad, and brainstorming ways he and City Year could work together to keep Michael coming to school every day and on time the whole tone changed. "Michael is a lot more approachable than he was in the beginning, and we are actually setting goals together," Ms. Nunez said.

At City Year, our primary goal is to help end the dropout crisis through one-on-one and small group interventions focused on improving students' attendance, behavior, and course performance in English and math. Building a transformational partnership with school administration and faculty using this well-rounded strategy has shown great results in student outcomes, but we can never forget that learning extends well beyond the walls of the schoolhouse. As many say, and City Year agrees, it really does takes a village to raise a child.

Want to mentor a student from a low income community? Click here to say you'll do it.

Images courtesy of City Year Chicago.

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