SFUSD holds Second Annual Family Empowerment Conference

0
118

by Laura Savage

San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is hosting its Second Annual Family Empowerment Conference (FEC) this Saturday, Sept. 27, at Denman Middle School in San Francisco. The focus of the conference is to empower families, parents and guardians, students and community members to get involved in their students’ education.

James Denman Middle School, in partnership with the OMI Excelsior Community Beacon Center, is hosting the conference this year.

Childcare Registration EnglishIt’s an opportunity for the school district to hold true to its family and community engagement standards as strategies in action in its strategic plan, “Impact Learning, Impact Lives,” to “create a range of opportunities for parents to understand their child’s academic progress and understand how to support [that] process” as well as to “build effective parent/school district/community systems and improve collective responsibility and commitment among all community assets to support student success.”

“As parents, we are our children’s first teachers and best advocates,” says Georgia Williams Bratt, SFUSD Parent Advisory Committee coordinator and parent in the district. “The more informed we are, the better prepared we are to support our children, advocate for their needs and guide them along their journey.

“As the saying goes, ‘Knowledge is power.’ The best way to empower ourselves is to inform ourselves with knowledge. Understanding the educational system can help us navigate it.”

SFUSD’s Office of Family and Community Engagement has adopted “Six Standards for Engaging and Empowering Families.” They are 1) Supporting Strong Relationships, 2) Facilitating Two-way Communication, 3) Linking to Learning, 4) Valuing Diversity, 5) Speaking up for Every Student, and 6) Sharing Power and Decision-Making.

To address these standards, workshop facilitators were asked to align their workshops with the six standards of family and community engagement so that families are clear.

Topics for workshops include Common Core Curriculum standards for math, reading and science and what that looks like for families. The new principal for the Willie Brown Middle School, opening in the 2015-2016 school year, Demetrius Hobson, will be presenting the vision for the new school and hearing from families about what they want to see and how it can affect their student in a fun science workshop.

Workshops to encourage African American parents and guardians to create advisory committees at their school sites and district-wide are also offered, as well as navigating special education and understanding the A-G high school graduation requirements. The full list of workshop topics can be found here: http://www.sfusd.edu/assets/sfusd-staff/parent%20resources/files/family-empowerment-workshops.pdf.

“As the saying goes, ‘Knowledge is power.’ The best way to empower ourselves is to inform ourselves with knowledge. Understanding the educational system can help us navigate it.”

SFUSD Director of Community Schools Hayin Kim feels that families are important partners to create supportive schools.

“The work of the school district to support quality schools has to be in partnership with families and has to be in partnership with school district staff and community partners who know how to work with families,” says Kim.

“The FEC is one of the district investments that we need to be making as part of that process and our responsibility to practice and own how we are in relationship with our families and how we are modeling our learning process in partnership with families. I think that is the only way that we will be able to come together within school communities and as a school district to make our family engagement standards a reality.”

'Impact Learning, Impact Lives' coverSFUSD’s strategic plan, “Impact Learning, Impact Lives,” states that family engagement is a key component in determining whether SFUSD is successful in implementing its strategies of success. “To make them a reality, [families, community partners and school district staff] have to be in conversation around that together,” says Kim.

“So the FEC is building on great work that has already been started in many schools with many departments and many community partners to have one full day where we can all come together and share and learn together.”

Why is it important that families from the Bayview and other neighborhoods in San Francisco attend?

“We are partners in our children’s education,” says Williams Bratt. “Parents’ voices, questions and concerns are an essential part of the conversation when talking about student learning, support and success. Any chance to bring parent perspectives to leaders, educators and community members working with our children is an opportunity for us to create powerful partnerships in our children’s education.”

The FEC organizing committee worked with community and district partners to determine what families may be interested in learning more about to help determine the information and opportunities that they desired to provide families at the conference.

Food and childcare is provided. Plenty of volunteers will be on board to help navigate the school and help parents and guardians get to their desired workshops. Translation and interpretation will be provided in Chinese and Spanish.

“It’s more about the kind of information that parents want to know about, the kind of questions that they ask us all the time, the kind of skills they want to have, the kind of connections that they want to make with each other across different schools,” says Ruth Grabowski, coordinator for Family and Community Partnerships.

“We want to have that kind of event. That’s what the FEC is aiming to do: provide families, parents, emerging leaders that want to be more involved and haven’t necessarily known how to or haven’t felt welcomed to – to just give them more information to help them.”

The keynote speaker for the day is Martha Merchant, UCSF HEARTS, Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools. She will be talking about “trauma-informed practices to school sites.” She works with schools and communities about realizing how stress and trauma affects human beings – children and also teachers, school staff, families and family members – and how stress gets in the way and impacts learning and what concrete things we can do to provide support in school communities and to families to turn that traumatic experience and reactions to trauma into strength and resilience.

“We are partners in our children’s education,” says Williams Bratt. “Parents’ voices, questions and concerns are an essential part of the conversation when talking about student learning, support and success. Any chance to bring parent perspectives to leaders, educators and community members working with our children is an opportunity for us to create powerful partnerships in our children’s education.”

It’s about “really building communities to support each other. That is a way to support all children’s educational experience because their school is supporting them to deal with the struggles that they have at home,” says Grabowski. “I think [trauma] affects a lot of us in ways that we aren’t aware of and we can work together to make our schools more supportive for students’ families.”

“A lot of families in the Bayview have students who attend school out of the Bayview, so it’s about supporting families who live in the Bayview and who have students who attend school in the Bayview,” says Grabowski. “It’s about providing the logistical support that day that works for families and also trying to make sure that information and programming, that community building makes sense to folks from that community.

“We’re really trying to locate these events in communities where our families live, where our students live and it’s accessible. There are some great panels and conversations that include parents and educators from Bayview schools talking about their experience in developing African American parent advisory and affinity groups, both at school sites and the district level … sharing those experiences and how families can work on building those groups in their school communities.”

“Families should expect to be part of a team,” says Kim. “We believe and we know that family engagement, like any type of learning effort, doesn’t happen because of one individual; it happens because there is a team.

“Families should expect to build that team with their school site with other families, with their friends, with their teachers, with their social worker … to have conversations that are about how our families are welcomed in our schools. How do families see their role as partners to classroom teachers? Those are the types of questions and conversations that we hope families can help us have.”

“I think that what we need is not more of the same, but we need new ideas, new relationships, new conversations to help push us and have critical conversations to help us see what we can’t see,” says Kim. “To help us know what we can’t know and to be able to take that risk, although oftentimes it may not be deserved (in the eyes of families) to start to build and rebuild and repair the relationships we know need to be in place in order for us to really be able to work together.”

Laura Savage is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. She can be reached at lsavage26@gmail.com.

 

Leave a Reply