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June 14, 2022

Conference or meeting with elementary school teachers students and parentsDo you ever feel like your 21st CCLC program is simply tapping into an already tightly woven community? This may be the case if your program has been around for a while, you lucky ducks. But if your program is new, or if people frequently move in and out of the area, you may be bringing some families together for the first time. Maybe you’re somewhere in between, serving a mix of “old” and “new” families. Whatever the case in your community, what lessons did you take away from the past program year for engaging those families? They were probably feeling torn by a strong need for supports and a healthy concern about gathering. With tips from Y4Y, reflect on your community’s greatest needs so you can plan family engagement events in the coming year that serve important purposes — including fun.

Now That’s a Fine How-Do-You-Do
Get a jump on those warm community fuzzies this fall from Day One! Staff need to be sure to know their community culture and understand the challenges that are unique to family engagement in your community. Besides tools, Y4Y offers staff training in cultural competence — try to make this important professional development a priority over the summer. (What you thought you knew about your community may have shifted dramatically.) Do you have standouts — some call them “super-volunteers” — who you can reliably go to, even after their children have graduated from your program? You know, the ones who always have their finger on the pulse of the neighborhood (in a positive way — gossips need not apply). Try to keep them on your program team through this slow shift back to “normal.” They can help you set the tone and hit the right notes as you start the program year.

Tell Me What You Need, What You Really, Really Need
Don’t let your community needs be a mystery! A crystal ball isn’t going to tell you what families are looking for when it comes to adult learning opportunities or group activities. Survey, survey, survey! Y4Y offers a family engagement survey and tips on focus groups to get a clear picture of what your families might be looking for from your program. Below are topics that just a few years ago you might not have expected to have such importance. Have potential partners lined up to offer family experiences and adult learning in:

  • Mental health resources
  • Mindfulness and other stress-reducing strategies
  • Response to trauma
  • Financial “rescue” resources
  • Childcare “co-ops”
  • Access to healthy foods

Be sure to gather this data as early as possible for the most effective planning of family engagement events. One important question on any survey: Are you more comfortable online or in person? Be ready for hybrid or parallel offerings for at least one more program year.

Did Someone Say Something About Fun?
As you work with families, you may very well be tackling some heavy topics and situations. Responding appropriately requires sensitivity and understanding. Y4Y’s Voices From the Field guest, Kathy Manley, grew up in abject poverty and later taught children who were in the same situation. She offers poignant insights into recognizing signs of poverty in children and how best to navigate those signs. She points out, for example, that children raised in poverty may sometimes laugh at seemingly inappropriate times as a defense mechanism or a way to find the lighter side of even the darkest subjects. Talk with mental health specialists on your program team about healthy ways to respond — and ways to tap into the “funny bone” as you work with children and adults.

Look for opportunities to build some laughs into your family engagement activities this year. After two years of virtual and hybrid learning, there may be more focus than ever on student learning and achievement. But who says you can’t laugh and learn at the same time? Family engagement events can be a great distraction from the heavier side of life, and you have all the room in the world to build in some fun! Consider shaping a literacy or STEAM event, for example, around:

  • A summer blockbuster comic book movie
  • Your city’s (or state’s) favorite baseball or football team
  • NASA’s 2024 mission to the moon
  • A simulated Olympics, tying academics to physical challenge stations
  • A “real-world” Minecraft or other popular video game event
  • A spin on a traditional American holiday — what celebrations around the world parallel Halloween, for example?

Are You Ready to Engage Current and Future Families?
Does your program culture and climate help you:

  • Welcome and support all students and families?
  • Foster a sense of community?
  • Consider the needs and priorities of all stakeholders (including kids!)?
  • Make room for fun?

If you can answer “yes” to these four questions, congratulations: Your next program’s already set up for a warm and wonderful start that engages all families, whether they’re newcomers or old-timers.