Our inquiry question was – “If we provide an opportunity for families to come together for an extended amount of time, and work and learn in partnership with school staff, what differences will we see in our vulnerable students (and all students participating in this project)?”
Our school team focused on the principle of ‘building horizontal connections’. WE felt the connection between school and family is essential for student success, and we wanted to build on this relationship, in order for parents to understand the importance of their role in their children’s learning, and how simple traditions and rituals within the family can lead to lifelong learning for their children. We began by inviting parents to join our ‘family night’, specifically targeting our families with vulnerable children. We met for eight sessions from 5:00 until 7:00 to play games, do family crafts (created a family flag, painted birdhouses, made placemats) and sing songs. The individual families sat together at a table and were served dinner by our staff. This helped to build simple traditions and rituals.
Our evidence was based on written evaluations from the parents at the end of the eight sessions, and oral interviews with children and their parents. The response from parents was overwhelmingly positive, with comments such as:
- ‘We will definitely be playing more games as a family. That was so much fun, and I learned so much about my kids!
- Our goal is to try to sit down to dinner as a family three times during the week- before, we never did. We would sit together and watch tv with our food on our laps, if we were together.
- Thank you to all the staff that helped make these evenings so special. I feel like you are all friends now.
- It was so fun to make the family flag, and really think about what words or pictures could describe our family. Even our youngest contributed some great ideas.
And our favourite… ‘the family project changed our family. ‘
I interviewed our (previously identified) vulnerable students and asked them this question. 100% could identify at least 2 adults in the school who cared about them. If they were involved in the family project, they were all able to identify at least 4.
I have always believed in the saying, it takes a village to raise a child. The family project helped to cement this belief. Not only do I feel that this inquiry strengthened family ties, rituals and traditions, but the connections between staff (our volunteers included the school secretary, six teachers, two EA’s and two community members) and families was strengthened and maintained afterwards. Families’ suggestions for improvement were to run the program for longer, and perhaps offer ‘alumni’ sessions in the next year. Although there was a large time commitment involved, I was surprised by the number of volunteers who gladly joined in and gave time, effort and worked hard to connect with parents during these evenings. I will be moving to a new school next year, but I’m hopeful that our school team will continue this project.