Engaging Parents to Boost Attendance
“Because I’ve changed, he’s changed.” This was the comment one parent made after attending a ‘Love and Logic’ parent engagement series at Northglenn High School (NHS). For Connie Salas, then Intervention Services Case Manager with Adams 12 Five Star Schools, nothing compares to seeing the impact this small-scale test intervention can have on a family. This parent’s student was struggling with their attendance after losing a loved one, and was resistant to receiving any sort of outside help. After their parent attended the group, their relationship with their student improved, the student began to become less and less resistant, and the parent was able to connect them with outside support. This in turn has increased his attendance at school. This parent was just one of several parents at NHS whose students are at risk for becoming truant. To better engage parents to support their students so that they do not become truant, the school developed a parent engagement effort targeted to these families. The effort helps parents build communication skills with their students, identify and name their behaviors, and learn about setting appropriate boundaries.This parent engagement effort emerged out of a larger effort to reduce truancy at NHS: the Come to School Program, a school-based court program used to reduce high school truancy for students ages 14-16. Three years ago, Salas and Sarah Collins, Assistant Principal at NHS, were approached by a magistrate who wanted to be more proactive with juveniles. “She felt the research showed that [actions for truant students] shouldn’t be punitive, should be strengths-based, and should help re-engage students back into school and tackle barriers; they should be proactive, not reactive,” Salas recounts. This was evident in their experiences at the high school level. Truancy court with high school students was not effective because the pattern of behavior began earlier. And schools were starting to lose trust in Intervention Services and the courts, because with 54 schools and 4 case managers, the district could not meet the needs of the schools.
Consistent with the Continuous Improvement Process, the Come to School team at NHS continues to adapt and change elements of their program to meet the changing needs of their students and to ensure that their program is helping students and families exit the process before they have a serious truancy case opened with the courts. When looking at the their current process to identify gaps and areas for improvement, they realized there was something missing. “We had a missing component – parent engagement,” Salas notes. The team had interactions primarily with students and no parent engagement piece, even though through their data, involving families in the process appeared to make an impact. Salas reached out to the Parent Engagement Coordinator for the district, who uses a parent curriculum called “Love and Logic” to engage parents; however, the curriculum had only been used with parents in the district at the elementary level, and had never been used to engage parents in the district with older adolescents. “It was a test with these parents,” Salas notes.Though Salas knew there was risk in using a curriculum built for parents at the elementary level, she moved forward with getting the effort off the ground. Salas enlisted the help of the family liaison, Cynthia Rodriguez, at NHS to co-facilitate the program. Even the principal was on board. “The principal made it a priority,” Salas recalls.
But even though the effort seemed to be moving forward, it was not without its challenges. “It was a great idea, but we didn’t know how to fund it. We didn’t want to impact school funds,” Salas notes. Because this intervention emerged out of a larger outcomes-focused effort, and Salas and her team would be looking at data in real-time to assess the program, they were eligible to apply for a LIFT Fund Award from the Youth Initiative of Adams County (ACYI) to support the capacity building necessary to get the intervention off the ground.But funding wasn’t the only challenge. Though Salas and her team found it easy to identify the parents they should target for the effort, recruitment was difficult. The neighborhood where NHS resides has a high migrant and immigrant population. 63.2% of students identify as Hispanic or Latino, and over half of the students at the school qualify for free or reduced lunch. “[These families] are highly impacted socioeconomically and otherwise… they have a lot of barriers,” Salas notes. These barriers made it difficult for them to participate in the program. To make it easier for families to participate, Salas and her team provided free meals and childcare, and hosted the six-week program in two hours sessions from 5:30-7:30pm. They also ensured that at least one of their cohorts would have content provided in Spanish, and modeled the sessions as an open forum to encourage parents to know they’re not alone.
So far the effort has engaged three different cohorts of parents, one English cohort and two Spanish cohorts. With the English cohort, no one showed; Salas and her team called every family on the list, but ended up opening it up to parents from the elementary school to fill the spots. Learning from this, with the first Spanish cohort, they targeted parents whose students were court ordered to show up to the sessions, in hopes maybe they would be more likely to show up; that also turned out not to be the case – Salas noted that those families still have a lot of barriers to participation, so a court order was not a sure sign the families would attend.With these first two cohorts, Salas and her team began to wonder if the program was going to even work at all for this population. To figure out why these parents were not coming, Salas and her team directly reached out to the parents to figure out why they were not coming. It turns out one of the reasons these families could not participate is due to their children’s homework. By attending these sessions, parents were taking away from the time they could spend helping their children with their homework. In addition, while childcare was provided, the childcare didn’t include a homework element, so children who were watched in childcare missed out on those hours doing homework at home. This was a barrier that Salas determined was in their sphere of influence and control, so the team asked National Honor Society students who were watching the children to help them with their homework. Salas said that this was especially appreciated by the Spanish-speaking parents, who often times, due to language barriers, were not able to give the homework support they felt their children needed. This proved helpful for the third cohort of families, and the effort appears to be showing some results.
According to Salas, only one student from the high school families has not improved in school. Parents appear to be more engaged with their students, and are more likely to show up to truancy council and court, which are part of the larger Come To School process. The effort has not only greatly supported parents and families, but has also helped the team determine whether to continue doing something if it wasn’t working. If something wasn’t producing the results they wanted, the team learned to either adapt it so that it would meet what they wanted to see, or stop doing it and subsequently stop wasting time and resources on something that was ineffective. In addition, Salas notes that the effort has strengthened the relationship between the school, the courts, and district Intervention Services, which the district traditionally has struggled with for some time.With these results however, come illuminated areas for improvement. Interestingly, though attendance has improved, Salas noted that there may be additional factors for why students are missing class than they had initially looked at. “The kids are in school, but not in class,” Salas noted. She noted that a potential reason for this might be that the students are not having their academic needs met. For the Come to School team, this may be the next area to focus their continuous improvement efforts, but in the meantime, the team aims to keep building up this parent engagement series and work towards keeping the series sustainable.