The Alabama Education Association (AEA) continues to lead in enhancing student learning. The W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the AEA have begun an initiative to assist families with skills needed to become more involved in the educational process of their children. Sixteen schools from seven school districts are participating in the program. They began their work at an energizing, motivating, daylong orientation session in Prattville on June 7, 2013. The participating schools are:
Barbour County: Barbour County Intermediate School
Birmingham City: Robinson Elementary and South Hampton Elementary
Choctaw County: Choctaw County High
Lowndes County: Calhoun High, Hayneville Middle School, Jackson-Steele Elementary, and Lowndes County Middle School
Marshall County: Asbury High
Montgomery County: Bellingrath Middle School, Capitol Heights Middle School, and Southlawn Middle School
Tuscaloosa City: Central Elementary, Holt Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, and Westlawn Middle School
Parent Involvement Coordinator: Birmingham City Schools
Participants were greatly enthused by the information received in this one-day orientation session. Antonio Williams, principal of Hayneville Middle School, said that his team left with numerous ideas for engaging parents and community members that can be implemented soon after school begins. Sabrina Johnson, principal of Bellingrath Middle School, expressed great appreciation for her faculty members having the opportunity to participate in this wonderful parental engagement initiative and is excited about community engagement activities to be conducted during the school year.
The initiative is funded by a matching grant of $250,000 from both the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan, and the Alabama Education Association. The total investment of this two-year initiative is $500,000.
“Today’s concept of parent and family engagement means more than parents volunteering at school,” said Dr. Tyna D. Davis, project director and manager of AEA’s Education Policy and Professional Practice Department. She added that parent and family engagement involves a partnership between parents and the school for the support of the student in the learning process. The objective of this initiative is to improve student achievement by increasing the involvement of the school, its community, and parents in the students’ lives and academic work.
“We’re going to train teams to go back to work on home visits,” she said. “On-site training will be a priority.” Davis said parents are an “integral part” of making the AEA Cares Project a success. “The key to understanding students’ capacity for learning is connected to the school staff (and) synthesizing data in the area of cultural competence,” she added. “The AEA Cares project is developed on the premise that cultural competence, student motivation, and teacher strategies need to be congruent.”
The Education Policy and Professional Practice Department of AEA has an established record of working with schools and education professionals in the area of school improvement. The AEA Cares Initiative is a custom-designed model based upon the National Education Association’s CARE Model for closing achievement gaps. (CARE is an acronym for Culture, Abilities, Resilience, and Effort). The critical elements of the AEA Cares Initiative are the use of home visits to enhance parent and family engagement, student and family involvement with the school, home-school communication, and school/family/community connections.
“Four outcomes of the AEA Cares initiative have been identified,” said Dr. Deborah C. Thomas, AEA’s educational consultant working with this initiative. “The development of a model for reliable, valid, effective, and replicable home visits as well as the delivery of professional development for educators; the identification of resources and strategies for family support and student learning; and the brokerage of educational partnerships for families are the desired results of this initiative.” Thomas also stated that, “transformation of the design for parental and community engagement in learning environments is the expected outcome of the AEA Cares Initiative. The involvement of 16 schools from diverse communities and resources will provide research findings to build a 21st Century design for increasing student achievement by addressing the needs of families, increasing learning support resources for children, and elevating the concept of parental involvement beyond one-time visits at open house events and occasional volunteer opportunities.”
The AEA Cares Initiative will utilize home visits to strengthen parent and family engagement as a support for student learning. Questionnaires, training for parents, professional development for educators, and anecdotal notes will be used to develop a model of effective home visitation. In addition to this data collection, student achievement, discipline, and attendance will be monitored according to statewide metrics.
“The Alabama Education Association believes in the development of a strong educational framework for every public school in Alabama,” said Dr. Henry Mabry, the executive secretary of AEA. “This means an opportunity every day for every child enrolled in our public schools. A rigorous curriculum, teacher effectiveness, effective leadership, and family engagement are essential for creating opportunities for children. The AEA Cares Initiative is designed to meet the essential needs of children and their families that will impact their abilities to learn and to achieve college and career-ready success.” The AEA Cares Initiative and on-site training program will have an end-date of Feb. 28, 2015.