Parent Involvement Task Force in Owsley County

This edition of the Family Engagement Blog comes from Sue Christian, Family Engagement Specialist in Owsley County.

Starting in the spring of 2013, I began the work to create a Parent Involvement Task-force for our school district.  It was not meant to be just a group of parents who would get together to do learning workshops, but this would be parents and guardians who came together to make a lasting impact at their schools.

The Task-force began their mission to help build family engagement capacity and to do what they could to make a positive and lasting impact for ALL the children of Owsley County.  The Task-force began working to create fun learning opportunities for the family as a whole.  Fun Family Math Nights were put together and initiatives were adopted to focus our energies on.

During our second year we adopted the following five initiatives to focus on:

  • Bullying 101:  Coping or Stopping?
  • Authentic Math Helps for Families
  • Supporting Grandparents as Parents
  • Supporting Teacher Morale for Student Success
  • Supporting Special Needs Families

The work of these parents has proven successful in many ways. They have met with site-based committees at both schools to seek approval for a Sport-Able Program. This would give students with special considerations the opportunity to participate in any sport that would allow them to.  Task-force parents met with coaches to ask for their support and we are able to report that all of the coaches of sports programming in Owsley County have agreed to open their doors to these students and families.  The program is projected to kick off full steam beginning in the fall of 2015.  The good news doesn’t stop here though!

The Task-force parents collaborated with educators to create exciting math programming for families in both the fall and spring of the 2014-2015 school year.  In addition to the math programming, the Task-force met with Academic Specialist, Craig Combs and secured his willingness to tutor parents or guardians who needed help one late afternoon a week.  The Task-force has also begun the process for a regular Teacher Appreciation program that has now taken root at the school level to help support our educators and staff who work so hard to give our students a wonderful education.

When I looked around at the last Monday Math Madness event that we held at Owsley County Elementary, we were fully staffed by volunteers–not just parent/guardian, but staff and community volunteers, too.  A majority of the parents who brought their children with them wanted to pitch in and volunteer, also.  These parents are creating the mentality of engagement and volunteerism for their children early.  Their children are building their own networks of support through community and school involvement.  This community is working together for the success of all children.

Sue Christian had worked close to two decades in the data solutions field when she made the decision to follow her heart to become a middle school teacher. During her eight years of service as president for the Owsley County Parent Teacher Student Organization, Sue determined that she wanted to make a difference for the students of Owsley County and Eastern Kentucky.

Rachel’s Challenge Comes to Laurel County

This edition of the Family Engagement Blog comes from Robin Keith, Family Engagement Specialist in Laurel County.

On April 20th, 1999 a school shooting occurred at Columbine High School, in Columbine, Colorado.  Two senior students killed 12 peers and one teacher and injured 21 others. After their attack, they turned their guns on themselves. Even though this tragedy brought about much pain and suffering, good has come from it in the form of a program impacting over 20 million students across the U.S.

Rachel Joy Scott, a 17-year-old senior at Columbine, was the first victim. Rachel was known for her kindness: reaching out to those who were perceived as “different,” those who were being picked on, and those who were new to the school.  Shortly before Rachel’s death, she wrote in her journal, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

After her death, Rachel’s family developed Rachel’s Challenge. Rachel’s Challenge includes a series of student empowering, educator motivating programs and strategies called the Awaken the Learner Five-step School Improvement Process that equips students and adults to create and sustain safe, caring, and supportive learning environments essential for academic achievement.

In October, Rachel’s Challenge staff continued her legacy at both North and South Laurel High School and at a community event. All students—freshmen through seniors—heard Rachel’s message. Dee Dee Cooper, the presenter, focused on the impact Rachel had on those she came in contact with and how we could also start our own “chain reactions of kindness” right now.  At the conclusion of the assembly, Dee Dee presented a banner. She explained that it would be available in the cafeteria during lunch, and if the students accepted Rachel’s Challenge then they could sign the banner. But just signing the banner wouldn’t be enough—they had to commit themselves to making a difference.

Rachel’s Challenge is:

  • Look for the best in others
  • Dream big
  • Choose positive influences
  • Speak with kindness
  • Start your own chain reaction

The banner was hung in the school as a reminder to the students of their commitment to creating a chain reaction of kindness.

The same evening, a community event was held at First Baptist Church.  Parents, students, and community members came together to hear about Rachel’s Challenge. Parents and community members were asked to make a personal pledge to create a chain reaction of kindness just as the students had earlier that day.

The schools have encouraged Rachel’s Challenge in many ways. They have offered additional programs, developed lessons, and created a “pay if forward” club at one school.

The community’s participation in Rachel’s Challenge reminds me of a quotation from Leo “Dr. Love” Buscaglia, a motivational speaker whose lectures aired on PBS: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Robin Keith is the family engagement specialist for Laurel County. A graduate of Berea College with a certification in elementary education, Robin decided to work with the Partners for Education because of the connection the organization has with her dreams of making change within her community.