After school programs play a pivotal role in our communities, providing a safe environment where kids can improve their academic performance, build social skills and improve their physical health.
We consider before and after school programs an extension of the school day, and studies have repeatedly confirmed that parent involvement and engagement with the school improves educational outcomes for kids. The best after school programs place a strong emphasis on parent engagement as they develop and deliver programming that is designed to maximize outcomes for kids.
In this blog post, we explore the relationship between parent engagement and the success of after school programs. We also offer tips and advice for the coordinators of after school programs who wish to further encourage parent engagement.
What is Parent Engagement?
Parent engagement can be described as active, present and positive participation in a child’s life and activities. It can also encompass the ways schools and programs connect and build relationships with parents to enhance children’s learning and development.
In the context of after school programs, parent engagement is about immersing parents in their child’s experience by sharing photos, videos, newsletters, milestones, daily activities and more through channels such as apps, phone calls, emails, texts and website updates. And as parents continue to be concerned about the health, safety and well-being of their children as the result of COVID-19, it has never been more important to keep the lines of communication open and consistently reassure parents that you are keeping children in your care safe.
Why is Parent Engagement Important for After School Programs?
Numerous studies have shown that parent engagement is one of the strongest predictors for healthy child development.
For example, a study of 96 school-based after school programs supported by the After-School Corporation (TASC) identified connections between program staff and families as one of the features of high-performing programs. In fact, efforts to engage families through regular communication were some of the most common features among the 10 programs whose participants had the highest academic performance. For before and after school programs, this means that a strong out-of-school time program can translate to better success during traditional class time.
With findings like these, it is no surprise that several initiatives have emerged in the United States to formally promote parent engagement.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to develop strategies for engaging with families and provides funding to support parent engagement.
Another program called 21st Century Community Learning Centers provides Federal funding for after school providers that offer academic enrichment programs in areas with high poverty rates and low-performing schools.
Promoting family and community engagement in summer and after school learning programs is an important component of this program.
How to Boost Parent Engagement in After School Programs
Understand Limitations on Parent Engagement
With the reduction or complete elimination of face-to-face communication opportunities with parents, after school programs need to be vigilant in leveraging other parent engagement strategies that accommodate social distancing measures.
Open Lines of Communication
The coronavirus pandemic has created the need for increased communication with parents and families, not only to keep them apprised of any changes to the programs, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to assure parents you’re doing everything in your power to keep their children safe.
This is why after school programs should invest in technologies that make it easier to communicate regularly with parents via digital channels.
Frequent communication between programs and families is a strong predictor of consistent program attendance, so after school program coordinators should strive to send regular updates, information, calendar changes and other announcements out to parents on a regular basis.
Share Pictures and Video
After school programs can promote parent engagement by sharing pictures and videos of activities and learning experiences directly with parents. Sharing media helps spread the word about what their program is doing and the positive impact the program is having on kids in the community. Kids also love seeing themselves in pictures and video, which can make them and their parents even more keen to participate.
Elicit Parent Feedback
Every loving parent wants to be a part of their child’s happiness and growth, and especially during times like these, they want to have a say in their child’s extracurricular experiences. Parents are much more likely to go along with program changes when they feel like they’ve been brought along on the journey.
After school programs can easily leverage surveys to poll parents on a variety of topics and issues to see what they can do to improve their programs. Or programs could provide parents a few options regarding new procedures they’re exploring, and see which option(s) work best for them. That way, when changes are implemented, parents will feel more valued and engaged because the after school program included them in the process.
Support Parent Engagement with SchoolCare Works
With the right digital tools, child care providers are empowered to communicate directly with parents and provide them with more transparency and insight into after school program activities and events.
SchoolCare Works is a purpose-built software solution that helps after school programs connect with parents on a regular basis to boost parent involvement and engagement. With SchoolCare Works, child care providers can:
- Manage child and family data with an online family portal
- Offer secure online payments by credit or debit card
- Manage enrollment level, staffing and scheduling across multiple program sites
- Use email, texting and push notifications to keep parents in the loop with new updates
- Share monthly calendars so parents can plan to attend events or activities
With SchoolCare Works, after school programs can boost their engagement with parents using digital channels, help parents get more involved with activities and events, and achieve better outcomes for kids as a result.