It is Family Day in Ontario, so it is fitting that I write the blog this week sharing another Interesting Idea in relation to your school community and connecting with families.
One of the single biggest impact initiatives we had at our school was something we called Community Connections. The benefits were huge and provided a service to members of our community when it was needed most.
It was organized and run by our English Language Learner teachers as well as our teacher librarian. It provided a regularly scheduled opportunity to reach out to our families and have an event early in the morning right after they dropped off their children. Parents were invited into our school for some connecting and information sharing.
We were aiming for our new families. Many of them new Canadians but depending on the session we would have many others that would attend. We felt it was important to really be thoughtful about who we targeted to attend the sessions. We discovered a real need in our community to help our new families and wanted them to feel safe coming to an event that was catered to their needs. So often they would not attend a big school event because of a perceived language barrier or they were overwhelmed by the scale and number of people that would be attending. They had different needs on top of a desire to be entertained or seeing their children involved in events.
We arranged to have interpreters there for each session.
We would adjust schedules and have teachers or other staff come and introduce themselves and possibly do a presentation.
We would partner with many organizations and services in the community so they were able to share what was available for families really close to home.
Some of the most important topics included:
- the local community centre, summer programs, programs during breaks.
- the Public Library outlining some resources and programs available for families, including summer programs.
- clothing in the winter ‘winter is coming!’
- the Police department discussing a sudden rise in fraud cases and what to look for to be careful
- our School Community Officer joining us to discuss social media. They were able to address social media sites and on line safety with gaming and communication
- the Ontario progress report card, and term report cards and how reporting may be different
- what to expect during Parent teacher interviews, and student led conferences
- how to communicate with your child’s teacher
- an overview of some well being and mental health resources available to our Milton families.
- how to get involved in our School Council and/or volunteering in the school
- the Town of Milton and all the programs and activities they have in their parks and recreation department
- the services provided by our school English as a Second Language and Special Education Resource Teams
- After school Tutoring, and child care options for before and after school
Often the returning participants would share with us their suggestions for things that were needed, or what they had discovered and should be shared with others. It became a very tight and cohesive community group that were always looking for ways to support one another.
At every session we would have our Settlement Specialist attend in order to explain her role and how she can help families settle in the community. Provided by the Welcome Centre in our school board the job title was Youth Settlement / Community Connections Specialist and they were extremely important to us. From a posted job advertisement here is the short description of their role,
“The H.D.S.B Youth Settlement/Community Connections Specialist will work with schools, parents and community partners in specified communities to develop school community activities and projects which address the needs of students, families and schools in those communities. These activities and projects will support school and system initiatives relating to community outreach and parent engagement, equity and inclusive education, literacy, numeracy, tutoring/mentoring, and interventions for students at risk”
We welcomed all the important people into our school and placed them in the same learning space. They met each other, and formed connections, friendships and support networks. Those families that attended in the first few years of the school continued to come back in future years in order to share and support new families that were arriving. The school building and our team were the connectors.
Think back to the blog discussing the well being of our students. I highlighted the importance of five words in the work that we do at our schools. Now that you know a little bit more about this Interesting Idea, look at the words again. This Interesting Idea is another example of how the important work in our schools is all about: Welcoming, Including, Understanding, Promoting and Partnering.
Enjoy Family Day!