Family engagement specialists play vital part in the school community
In August 2003, Hampton City Schools hired new positions in six of the Title I schools. These positions were called parent involvement facilitators. At the time, this was a brand new position in HCS. Diane Greene served as the coordinator of the original program and helped to create the guidelines of the position. Chanda Epps, who now serves as the Title I coordinator of family engagement, was one of the first employees to hold this position. Fourteen years later, the position is called family engagement specialist (FES) and the Division currently has 13 serving in the following schools:
Aberdeen Elementary School
Andrews PreK-8 School
Bassette Elementary School
Booker Elementary School
Bryan Elementary School
Cary Elementary School
Davis Middle School
Forrest Elementary School
Lindsay Middle School
Machen Elementary School
Smith Elementary School
Syms Middle School
Tyler Elementary School
According to Epps, the position was aligned with guidelines from the federal government and created to engage and work with families to meet their needs. The position is paid with federal Title I funds. She said her primary job is to work with the FES and to provide training and assistances to the 13 individuals who hold this position. The group meets monthly and each new FES is provided with a mentor to assist them.
“The job (FES) has many different pieces and you have to find the balance,” said Epps. “It includes hands-on-training and shadowing others during the initial stage of the job.”
“In my role as Family Engagement Specialist at Jefferson Davis Middle School, I am honored to provide resources and support services to families, students and staff,” said Stephanie Cartwright. “I love the opportunities that I am given everyday to build home, school, and community partnerships that foster student achievement and success, both academically and socially.”
The FES is involved in many aspects of school life including greeting parents and students each morning, coordinating volunteers, coordinating Family Nights, creating and distributing flyers and newsletters, and maintaining a presence on social media. The FES sends regular messages to parents through Dojo (a digital app to build classroom community) and other outlets available. Parents may access the Family Resource Center where they have access to computers for resume writing, to view job postings, and access their child’s grades through parent portal. The FES is available to help parents during their visits to the resource center.
The FES helps to diffuse situations that arise in the school and they work as an advocate for the parent and child. In addition, they work closely with the school counselors, social workers, and nurse to help the child’s needs be met so he or she can be successful and focused on school.
“As a family engagement specialist at Bassette Elementary School, my daily focus is to strengthen the whole family,” said Diane Campbell. “We work to paint a brighter future for our scholars and their families by modeling ways to be successful and challenging everyone’s growth.”
FES work closely with the community to find ways that community partners can help support the students and parents. Some of these ways are through lunch buddies, tutors, reading buddies, and community gifts (i.e. coats, shoes, school supplies). Faith-based partners also work with the FES to provide services to the schools.
Amy Killian, FES at Tyler Elementary School, said, “One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to connect our incredible community partners to family needs within the school. Just last year we had a grandma with six kids in her custody who were sleeping on air mattresses. Grandma was doing her absolute best to make things work to feed and clothe everyone and pay the rent. Her students were always at school, on time, and she was a familiar face within our school walls. When we presented her need to our board of partners, the response was overwhelming. Within two weeks we were able to bless that family with two brand new solid wood bunk bed sets, four brand new mattresses, and four sets of new bedding. The donations were a team effort from two of our faith-based partners and two of our business partners. That is just one example of the numerous occasions when our partners have reached out and met practical needs within our school family. It is a gift for me to be the liaison for such outreaches, because I get to see first-hand the immense gratitude on the family's faces.”
Epps says that the Title I department conducts surveys each spring and fall to monitor the success of the program and to discern what is working well and what they can improve on.
"We are committed to working collaboratively with our schools, families, and community to create partnerships that not only empower families, but also positively impact student success, both academically and socially,” said Epps. “Our family engagement team works to ensure family events are aligned with school goals to reinforce key skills and also allow parents/guardians to connect with the school in a welcoming, relaxed setting. Another essential element of our program is that each Title I school has a robust network of community partners. Family engagement specialists provide multiple opportunities throughout the school year for parents and guardians to connect with community resources, support services, and local programs.”
HCS does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age or other protected classes in its programs and activities and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Robbin G. Ruth, Executive Director, Human Resources, One Franklin Street, Hampton, VA 23669 757-727-2000.
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