A Secret Ingredient for Parent Engagement

A Secret Ingredient for Parent Engagement

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

As the lights dimmed, Nadine Hertzog closed her eyes and listened to the soft music. She breathed deeply and felt her body relax. This must be how my son feels every morning in class, she thought.

In those few calming minutes, Ms. Hertzog experienced the same daily meditation that her third-grader, Kadin, enjoys at Harlem Academy – thanks to the “Coffee Connection” meeting on meditation that she attended before heading to work. “Now I know what to do if Kadin is feeling stressed at home. I can remind him to take a breather, just like he does in school.”

Nurturing Communication to Reach Common Goals

Held monthly, Coffee Connection meetings give families regular opportunities to engage with Head of School Vinny Dotoli and other school leaders. “Each meeting is structured very intentionally to foster a two-way exchange of ideas,” says Jeremy Kallan, the family partnership director.

“We typically begin with a brief presentation or overview of the topic,” says Mr. Kallan. “We then open it up for discussion, and everyone has a chance to speak. After each meeting, we create a detailed summary of both the presented content and suggestions from parents to share with all Harlem Academy families, not just those who attended.”

Driving meaningful interaction with parents is beneficial to everyone – including students. “True engagement creates a collaborative culture,” says Mr. Dotoli, who attends every meeting.

Providing Tools to Support Children at Home

Another benefit? Well-informed parents. Selema Moliga knows this firsthand. “It’s helpful to have a better understanding of what my child is doing in school and the purpose behind it,” says Ms. Moliga, whose daughter Luca is in fifth grade. “I walk away from every conversation having learned more, and that benefits my daughter.”

The meeting that stands out most for Ms. Moliga revolved around our Singapore Math program. “Being able to actually practice it with a teacher gave me a better understanding of how our kids are doing math now,” she says.

Using Parent Input to Drive School Growth

It’s no accident that the very existence of Coffee Connection is the result of family feedback. Three years ago, we heard directly from parents that they wanted more opportunities to connect, especially with the head of school. Meanwhile, we wanted a way to bolster collaboration. “The meetings are designed to tap parents’ wisdom, solicit their input, and engage them in problem-solving,” notes Mr. Dotoli.

Since its inception, Coffee Connection has spurred many opportunities to help the school progress. When parents at one meeting expressed an interest in taking leadership roles, we instituted class officers who work with our family partnership team to plan events and volunteer opportunities.  

We also fine-tuned reports cards because of feedback from another meeting. “Families told us that they’d like to see a breakdown of each course grade in categories and the inclusion of previous terms to show trends,” says Mr. Kallan. Their input helped us make the report cards a more useful tool for everyone.

“As parents, we talk to each other a lot,” says Ms. Hertzog. “But these meetings give us the opportunity to share our thoughts and ideas with school leaders. I really appreciate that open dialogue.”