Impact of Family Engagement on Age 0 -5 / Elementary School

In this section, we will discuss the impact of family engagement during children age 0 to age 5 (the pre-K and elementary school years). We will explore the research programs aimed at achieving favorable outcomes for children in this age group.

Children Ages 0-5

What Are the Boston Basics

I remember a couple years ago, you and I were on the phone. And I said, Ron, you know, what would we say if somebody asked us for the five things that families should do to really be effective in supporting their children’s development? And by golly, you went off and took that question and ran with it. So could you talk a little bit about that intervention?


I just want to put it in context a little bit. For the Achievement Gap Initiative, we’re trying to do work that hits on the parenting, school, and peer groups, as supported by the business community and the larger community.

And so we’re trying to have work going on in each of those circles. And so what we’re talking about here are the things that have to do with parenting and families. And we’ve distilled from the research literature five principles, you might call them, of early childhood parenting and caregiving.

Boston Basics are what we call five fun and simple things that any parent can do beginning at birth. And they are to maximize love and manage stress; to talk, sing, and point; to count, group, and compare; to explore through movement; and to read and discuss.

And our intention is to saturate first one neighborhood in Boston, then the rest of the city. And after that, we’ll have a kit that people anywhere can use.

The nugget for me that affected what our emphasis is with what now we’re calling the Boston Basics was probably four or five years ago, looking at the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey and seeing that racial and socioeconomic differences are not very apparent around the first birthday, but they’re stark by the second birthday.

If we know that, then how can we not do something about it? I mean, the gaps we’re interested in are starting to open up so early.

Everybody Loves Their Children

So I have been in spaces where I’ve had policymakers say to me, well, you know, that kind of thing will only work in certain communities. And this “certain” is code for more communities where families have means, communities where families speak English, communities that are not disenfranchised.

So what do you say/do to counter those kinds of pushbacks of perfectly wonderful interventions like yours. There are certain types of research that we don’t have much of– but we also still have our common sense. And so you’ve got to do the research to begin with someplace.

And so we’re going to do an interrupted time series analysis to look at how people’s awareness of the things we’re talking about changes after the campaign has begun.

But the initial receptivity has been great. Everybody loves their children. And when you are respectful in the way that you deliver information and support and advice, people want to know it.

They want to give their children a good start in life. The five propositions we’re talking about are human propositions– they’re relevant to everybody.

They’re things that are not done as much as they should be among the less advantaged, but they’re also not done as much as they should be among the advantaged.

And that’s partly why it’s captured the imagination so much of adults and influential around Boston– because they know it’s all stuff that seems like you should do it, they know they did not do it all, and they know it’s very accessible to everybody.

So we’re gearing up to launch in three languages– we’re going to do English, Spanish, and Cape Verdean Portuguese. We’ve got nothing but positive responses from people in the community that we’ve talked with about it.

Another young man that we’ve taped, who is– well, they’ve got a little boy. He and his girlfriend are separated. But he takes the little boy–the boy’s two years old– he takes the son to daycare, and picks him up from daycare, and delivers him to the wife, who then takes care of him while the father goes to work.

And they have this arrangement– they live a few doors from one another. But he’s totally invested in this little boy. When you go to their apartment, it’s a small, three-bedroom apartment. There are two other families that live in two of the other rooms in that apartment– they share the kitchen and the bathroom.

He’s got two rooms in the back corner. One of those rooms in the corner is set up as the nicest little nursery you ever want to see– with all the toys and books and things for his toddler son. These people love their children. We all love our children. And he clearly has taken advantage of resources that are available to him as a parent, and taken that advice.

He’s kind of hooked into some of the early childhood networks in that area. I get a little choked up even thinking about it. Everybody loves their kids. And so it’s almost immoral to deny access to parenting information to folks who don’t have access to it on their own, or don’t know where to go and look for it.

And this is where I think that our work is so important because we do, unfortunately, have people who feel like parents don’t care about their kids, they don’t love their kids. And so they aren’t going to be engaged.

Where really it’s about access to the information, access to opportunities, because just as you’ve experienced, all the families I’ve met really want to do better. But sometimes they just don’t know how, and don’t have access to the information. And it’s access appropriately packaged and delivered.

Exactly. Nobody wants somebody coming with an arrogant, condescending attitude. You’re not parenting your child right– you need to do better with that. In fact, in a focus group we held a few weeks ago, one of the mothers said, please don’t come in here telling us what we’re doing wrong.

Just come and tell us what we could do more of, or the kinds of things that would help our kids. If we go the right way, if we are responsive to folks when they tell us what’s going to work for them, and what’s not going to work for them, I think we can make a huge difference.

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Elementary School

Home Visits with Stanton Elementary

Hands down, if you only got one thing that you’re going to do, it has to be home visits. Home visits by far just make it so that you have a more trusting relationship, you have a good foundation to build a relationship off of, and you can move forward from there in many different ways.

My teachers are focused on one-on-ones at home– go into the community, meet your families, talk to them about your hopes and dreams. Just ask them, what do they want for their kids? And parents usually don’t hear that question, and they definitely don’t hear it from anybody that has at the end of their email address.

We assume we know how parents get information. And through home visits, I know now how parents get information, and it’s not always through a newsletter, and it’s not always through a calendar. That first year, I remember trying to do home visits was like pulling teeth.

We were tracking parents down, and they did not want us to come to their house. You know, they saw us as, why do you want to come to the house? What are they looking for, you know? They didn’t trust us. I was against it at first, until they explained that we’re not here to call CPS. We just want to get to know the child, what you expect from us, and what we expect from you. I said, well, why can’t we do that at school? And they said, well, this is something new that we’re trying.

But when they had it, I enjoyed it. It’s to get to know the teacher on a personal level, to find out his background or her background, or what school she went to, or how she got her education, or how he got his education. So I loved it.

Now they’re looking for me. Where’s my home visit, Ms. McKay? When are you coming? When are you coming to the house? It’s just a very different feel, and I think a lot of that was just establishing that trust with parents.

I went to one of the communities this past August to do some of my home visits. And I brought a newer staff member with me, who was a little nervous and had never done it before.

And, you know, it’s a little bit of an area that you might not feel comfortable in necessarily by yourself if you hadn’t been there before. And we’re walking. We’re walking, and this man’s walking up to me. And she looks nervous. And he’s like, you Ms. McKay, aren’t you? And I was like, yeah, I am. And he was like, you taught my nephew whatever, whatever. And I was like, oh yeah.

You know, we’re talking for a little bit. And then I’m walking through the courtyard, and I hear my name coming from different houses, because the kids know you. They know your face. And even if you didn’t teach them, you may have taught their friend, or their brother, or their sister. I love going on home visits. I love engaging with the families. It’s just you’re sitting there, holding a baby on your lap, and talking about this and that. You know, they’re offering you food, and it’s just– yeah, it’s definitely worth it.

The family visits, I love them because they ask questions like, you know, what are their strengths, their weaknesses, and how can they help to make them stronger in the class or in a certain subject.

So it’s really– I love the home visits. I’m going to come to your house. I’m going to sit down. I’m going to drink your tea and I’m going to talk about your kid and their hopes and dreams, right? And I’m going to listen to your expectations, because, you know, parents expect us to do stuff too as teachers.

It doesn’t just go we, we, we, we expect you, you, you, you to do all this stuff, right? It’s a two-way street. It gives you more of a stake in that family. And because you’re invested in them, they’re going to be more invested in you.

That in itself was very new for parents. And they’re like, oh, we like that. Somebody actually asking me what I want for my kid? I feel like I’m an equal partner in this relationship. Like, oh, I like that.

Ms. Bryant goes around there, honey. She goes to them kids house she ain’t scared of nothing or nobody. Ms. Bryant walks the neighborhood. She comes around there, she played with the kids, she jumped rope, she goes to the ice cream truck.

She do it all for them kids. It was very interesting to just sit there, and just lay back, and just have a– like it’s your brother, or your, sister, or your family member just sitting there holding a whole conversation. And to be honest with you, they felt like they were at home. So when you have a person that feel like they at home, it’s the best thing.

Impact of Family Engagement on Students

Once you’ve gone into a child’s home, they look at you a little bit differently. They’re like OK, so you know where I watch TV or you know where I eat dinner. And so you probably could call my mom if you needed anything.

And whether or not that’s a good thing or a bad thing, kids believe that we become part of that family circle once we’ve had that home visit. It’s going to get them doing stuff at home so that they’re learning quicker.

So that they’re retaining those skills faster, but it’s also establishing in the whole household the idea that school is important. There’s no question, we’re going to get this done. We’re going to learn.

I think students have really started to get excited about their parents being more involved in things. I mean, at least when I was growing up, if parents were in the building, kids were like, aw, god, my mom’s here. Now kids get really excited to see their parents in the building, and kids are so excited about home visits.

A college professor told me once that students won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And I think it has a direct correlation with student achievement and as a teacher, that’s what you’re there for.

So if your goal is to see your students achieve and engaging families and getting to know families is one proven way to help you achieve that, I mean if you’re in teaching for the right reasons, you would do what you need to do to see your students excel.

When we told the school that Xavier has been diagnosed with cancer, they said, OK we’re going to put in the proper channels that he gets homeschooling, which he did. I mean, it’s sad to have a child at the age of 11 going through something that you can’t fight for.

You want to take your son or any pain from your child to make sure that he doesn’t have to go through this. And Stanton took on the role, checking up on us. Making sure we was OK. Making sure that he still has school work. Still making sure that he was going to get the best education.

Having a home school teacher coming to the hospital, coming to the house. It’s been two years and Xavier has been cancer-free. Just to know that our son is well and clear, it’s a blessing. The school, like I said, they’re there for you.

A Study of an Elementary School Intervention

Flamboyan had this great opportunity where we could study their work to engage families with– and look at the outcomes for students over time. In a quasi-experimental design, quite frankly.

And so my work there has looked at over 4,000 students from pre-K to sixth grade. And so we were to look at the impact on this, of this work on student outcomes.

So the family engagement project has three basic components to it. One, and I would say the center piece of it really because I think it’s maybe the biggest lift, is a home visit. So what they want to do is have these conversations with families not about, well, here’s what you need to do.

Here’s what you need to do. But tell us what you would like from us as your child’s teacher, as the school that’s going to be helping educate and develop you’re young child. What do you expect from us? What do we need to know about your child, because you’re the expert? And so home visits are really about changing those relational dynamics.

So it’s not the teacher as authority talking to a parent, but the teacher or somebody from the school talking with a parent or a family member. And going to the family, right?

These are not meetings that are held at school. These are held in a place or in an environment where the parents should feel more comfortable.

Some parents are very uncomfortable being at the school. And so the whole point of this is to change those dynamics so that we have a more equal partnership. A conversation that lets teachers and parents understand that their actually allies. So that’s a big part of it. And I’m talking about that a lot because, quite frankly, I think that’s the biggest lift for that program.

The other two components of it is there’s ongoing communication with families. So the idea here is that a home visit is nice, but parents need to know what’s going on with their children throughout the school year.

They need to know what’s going on in the classroom. What’s coming up. How their child just did. What they might do. And then the last part of it is the Academic Parent Teacher Team meetings, the APTT workshops.

And that’s where– these are workshops that are really data driven. So parent teachers are preparing folders for parents, for family members, that have their children’s data, their test scores, in those folders.

And they’re giving parents concrete information about how their children are performing on the assessments that the school system values. And then the other part of those meetings is that they help give parents some tools and strategies to work with their children at home.

Because we know that things like parents reading at home is really important for helping children develop their literacy skills and their early literacy skills.

So how did your study look at of three of those interventions? We had the best, most comprehensive data on whether or not a student got a home visit.

So we did– we actually did two things. What we know from a researchers– from a research standpoint, we had 4,000 students. But we had 4,000 students in 15 schools. And so it wasn’t just that we were able to say, if you got a home visit, did it matter?

But we were able to account statistically using hierarchical linear modeling for some of those school effects. So it’s very easy in these kinds of studies.

There’s always a school effect. Like different schools have different cultures and different communities that feed into them. And I wanted to really take that into consideration so we could rule out a school effect when it might be the intervention effect or the home visit effect.

And so what we found actually here is that the home visits had a tremendous effect in relationship to attendance and reading. I’m a huge convert on the home visit piece now. I think I had– I know I had underestimated what home visits could accomplish.

And seeing data from 4,000 plus students in D.C. And hearing, quite frankly, hearing the teachers and the school leaders talk about what those experiences were like for them and the parents, I really think that home visits are a particularly powerful practice that can really develop some strong relationships between educators.

Yeah. And this home visit protocol, I think– because sometimes with, you know, lots of different programs use home visits. But I think this one in the way that it focuses on the relationship seems to be the key piece. I think the fact that– this is just my hunch. The fact they did them early on in the school year was really important because a lot of home visits, if they’re done in response, as a reaction to something negative, becomes punitive.

And it’s not about building relationships. It’s about let me go to your house and tell you what we need from you. And these, by be being done before school starts or early in the school year, it really is all about that.

Let’s get to know one another. And let’s have– let’s build a relationship so that in the event that we need to have a difficult conversation, we are on good footing.

But this Flamboyan project, I think, was a really important study because it had a lot of students. And it had a lot of students from schools that nobody would say are advantaged schools. And this– quite honestly, I think that that study showed that that program can be effective.

That reaching out to families and building relationships with families works.

Flamboyan’s Development of Family Engagement Strategies

So now let’s talk about exactly the work that Flamboyan has done here in DC. Could you give us the trajectory of that work? So after those initial conversations with people that led me to say, all right, let’s study family engagement, what we did was we studied a couple of things.

First and foremost, we looked at the research and obviously, we found you very prominent in the research. We did a local landscape assessment to see who was working in this field called family engagement.

We did a national landscape assessment to see who was in the field. And then we did focus groups, so about 250 families across Washington DC to understand what their experiences were like with school.

And I would say each of those pieces was really, really important. But if I had to put a value on any one of those four, I would absolutely say it was speaking with families, and really hearing what their experiences with school were like informed a lot of how we think about our work today.

Once you did all the research, how did you come up with the particular strategies– because I know that home visits is a part of that– how did you all come up with that as the intervention point, and then what happened next?

So the first thing we did was we did a fellowship with teachers who were fabulous at engaging families so that we could learn what they do. And we found that they did three key things.

First, they built trusting and authentic relationships with their families. Second, they communicated with their families regularly. And third, they shared academic information with families in real time so that they could do something with that information.

We learned those three key things and we then scoured the country, and we said, OK, is there anybody out there building really authentic relationships with families? Is there anybody out there sharing real academic information with families? And the answer, of course, was yes.

And we went and found them and we asked them to teach us what they know. And so the first person we found was Carrie Rose at the Parent/Teacher Home Visiting Project in Sacramento, California, and we asked her to come teach us all about home visiting, and to teach a group of teachers about home visiting, so we could see if this would work for Washington DC.

And on the academic partnering side, we found Maria Paredes in Creighton, Arizona, and she had transformed parent-teacher conferences from a one-on-one sharing session, which as a former teacher I can tell you they were not the most productive use of teacher’s times, and they certainly were not a good use of parent times.

And so that second process that you describe with Maria Paredes, those are the academic parent-teacher teams. Could you just give us a little bit more of a definition of what that is? So the academic parent-teacher teams are an opportunity for a group of families– so it’s not one-on-one– the families of a classroom come together, and the teacher is sharing for the families the core thing the children need to learn that year in order to be successful, to get on grade level, et cetera.

And so it could be reading fluency. It could be a specific thing all around numeracy. Families are seeing this information, and it works because they have the relationship with the teacher ahead of time because of the home visits.

And so they know that that teacher really does care about their child. And so the information that they’re sharing isn’t meant to be sad news. It isn’t meant to be great news. It isn’t meant to be any thing other than this is where your child is, and this is where we’re going to get your child together.

So step one in those meetings is where is the child? Step two is where do we need to be by the end of the year? Step three is this is what this particular skill set means, and here are games you can play at home with your child to help your child catch up, move ahead, and they’re differentiated for the kids in the classroom. And then the fourth step is now let’s set a goal together.

We’re together together, me, teacher, you, family, where do we want to be in the next 60 days? Not at the end of the school year, because that’s way too late. That’s too long of a horizon. But in short bursts of time, 60 days, and then we’re going to check back in. And teachers do check back in, and we see kids are making great academic progress.

Flamboyan’s Piloting of Family Engagement Strategies

And so now you piloted this in five to seven schools, it sounds like, Stanton being one of them? Mm-hmm. And so what’s happened? What have been some of the results of this wonderful program? We piloted in, as you said, five schools in our first year, really not knowing what to expect.

And today, we are in 32 schools. And those are primarily elementary schools. We have a few K to 8 campuses. We’ve been asked by the district to partner with them on early childhood education.

And so we have trained all of the early childhood educators in how to do relationship building home visits, as opposed to notetaking home visits or assessing student needs home visits.

These are really exclusively around relationship building home visits. We’ve been approached by the district to work with our special education department, to also build out what family engagement looks like in special education.

We also have deep relationships with our charter schools here in DC. Over 40% of our kids are in charter schools in Washington. And so we do need to work, and we are welcoming the opportunity to work with both district schools and charter public schools.

So with all this that’s been going on with the home visits and APTT, what are some of the outcomes? Because obviously if Chancellor Henderson is going to have you move to more schools, something great must be happening. So what are some of the outcomes that you’re seeing?

We’re really excited about the outcomes that we’re seeing. We did a study with Johns Hopkins University, and we found that students who have received a home visit had 24% fewer absences than students who did not have a home visit.

We found that students who have a home visit are more likely to read on grade level than students who did not have a home visit. And those are quantifiable results for you.

But anecdotally, we have thousands of stories. We have stories of teachers who have decided to stay in the classroom because they are now really energized about why they went into teaching in the first place. We have stories from parents who say, you know what?

I always knew I was supposed to be doing this. I always wanted to do this with my child. And now I have the information to do exactly what the teacher needs me to do to help the teacher to help my child.

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