Article: The Development and Sustainability of School-Based Parent Networks in Low-Income Latinx Communities
When families have strong social networks, children are more likely to succeed in school. The following are selected recommendations and results from a research study of a program called Families and Schools Together.
Families and Schools Together is an after-school program that engages families in group activities. The program consists of eight weekly multi-family group meetings, followed by two years of monthly parent/caregiver-led meetings. The researchers interviewed and surveyed elementary school parents/caregivers in predominantly low-income Latinx communities to examine how they meet one another, how trusting relationships develop, and how the size and quality of family networks changes over time.
- “Schools should provide more frequent opportunities for parents/caregivers to meet and interact throughout the year” beyond PTA/PTO meetings and student performances. Parents interviewed did not believe that, as currently designed, those were good opportunities to get to know others at a deeper level.
- “Schools might encourage parent/caregiver interaction at events by setting up chairs at round tables instead of in rows, providing food or other focal points (e.g., children’s artwork displays) around which people can gather, or including facilitated get-to-know-you activities.”
- The PTO/PTA was not viewed as beneficial by families interviewed because “the focus was on schooling operations that appeared disconnected, for many parents, from their child’s success.” Consider how to make closer connections between the PTO/PTA and students’ academic and behavioral growth. Also, take steps to ensure that the climate and culture of the PTO/PTA is welcoming and accepting of all families.
- “School policies that require parents to stay in their cars during pickup and drop-off times likely limit parent connections more than if schools were to provide a designated area for families to wait for their children. This pickup and drop-off example highlights how parent network formation can be shaped by schools’ organizational policies, even if seemingly unrelated.”
- The first-grade parents in the study knew about three other parents in their children’s school and the size of their networks changed very little over subsequent years, both in the absence and presence of the program. Reflect on whether your current family engagement strategies support families in broadening their social networks.
- “Growth [of parent networks] in [schools with the Families and Schools Together Program] is more immediate, suggesting that point-in-time interventions can speed up what appears to be a typically unfolding process.”
- “Boosting network quality was difficult even when schools offered a sustained and intensive family engagement program…in predominantly low-income Latinx communities, both strong cultural values around family and concerns about the broader community context reduce parents’ openness to expanding their social networks.”