Dual-generation programs boost parent engagement

K-12 districts have been finding success when offering activities that allow parents to learn alongside their children.
By: | Issue: April, 2019
March 14, 2019
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS—Parents and students attend learning-oriented special events and Saturday instructional academies as part of Hayward USD’s dual-generation initiative. The program began after the district saw low turnout for traditional parents-only activities.

Would most of the moms and dads in your district rather attend a parents-only weekend school event or take their kids to the zoo? Hayward USD, realizing families almost always choose the latter, boosted turnout in 2015 by launching dual-generation activities that allow parents to learn alongside their children.

“Saturdays are sacred,” says Chien Wu-Fernandez, associate superintendent in the Northern California district. “To ask parents to compromise that to come to an event forces them to make a hard choice.”

Aligning dual-generation programs

Hayward USD had recommitted to increasing parent engagement in the 2014-15 school year, but saw low turnout at traditional activities such as parent universities. The dual-generation programs originated when parents told the district they wanted to attend events with their children, Wu-Fernandez says. 

The district’s dual-generation Saturday academies now cover middle school math, robotics, poetry and other topics. Special weekend events include a Halloween trick-or-treat spectacular designed for students with special needs. There is, of course, candy-related entertainment. And while reading books to students, teachers also show parents literacy strategies they can use to build their children’s skills, such as comprehension and predicting what characters will do when faced with challenges.

The traditional parent events back in 2014-15 attracted only about 200 participants. Attendance at dual-generation programs has jumped from about 1,100 in the first year to 5,000 in 2017-18. “We’re no longer making parents choose between quality time with kids and sitting in a three-hour session with us,” Wu-Fernandez says. “We’re now supporting parents and students, so they’re learning in and out of school in ways that are aligned.”

Becoming a hub

Some Buffalo public schools in danger of state takeover have shown improvement since the urban, upstate New York district launched Saturday academies two years ago. Parents and children under 16 can learn side by side in classes such as robotics, cooking, printmaking and English as a second language, says Anibal Soler Jr., an associate superintendent in the district’s Office of Strategic Alignment and Innovation.

The free programs, which include breakfast and lunch, take place at the district’s 21 community schools (the district has about 55 campuses). The classes offered in each building are tailored to each school’s resources and input from families, Soler says.

“If we’re going to make whole-child improvements, we need to engage the parents,” Soler says. “With parents who didn’t finish school, we have to re-engage them and expose them to what their kids are learning.”

The district pays principals and teachers to staff the programs, some of which are also led by volunteers from community organizations. The academies are not restricted to district families. Any parents and children in a school’s community can participate.

Last school year, 44,000 people attended the programs. Soler says the academies provide lower-income families with the same weekend learning options that are available to wealthier families who can, for instance, afford to take children to museums or other educational activities.

“We want to shift that paradigm and serve families with free access to high-quality experiences, while making our schools the hubs for these communities,” Soler says. “We want people to know schools are there for them.”