With Spring Break in the rearview mirror and May roaring in like a lion (that’s usually what we say about March!) the countdown to the last day of school has begun. Ask my kids, and they would tell you they start counting down to summer on January 1st, and perhaps I do a little of that as well.
So whether or not you’ve started daydreaming about those warmer days ahead, this month we’re sharing a few ways to keep your families engaged over summer. Traditionally, most family engagement programs focus on in-person school activities like fundraisers, parent teacher conferences, and volunteer opportunities. And with most school buildings closed over summer, many educators will take time to disconnect and recharge, and likely our children too.
However, the pandemic has thrown enormous challenges at our schools, and it’s taken the entire school community - teachers, students, and parents - to find a way to keep learning going over the past few years. We’ve seen an outpouring of support for the educators who show up every day to teach our children. And we’ve also seen a huge increase in the number of parents who want to be more actively involved in their child’s education.
Research shows an involved parent can have an enormous impact on their child’s success in school. For this reason we strongly urge our school leaders to make family engagement a priority over summer. Let’s not slow down our efforts just because our school buildings are closed. Let’s continue to create learning opportunities for our students and further develop a collaborative relationship among the many individuals who are committed to the education of our children.
Benefits of Keeping Families Engaged Over Summer
Our first blog of the school year touched on the many benefits of a strong family engagement program. Some of these benefits are summarized by the National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools:
earning higher grades and test scores, and enrolling in higher-level programs.
being promoted, passing their classes, and earning credits.
attending school regularly.
having better social skills, showing improved behavior, and adapting well to school.
graduating and going on to postsecondary education.
But how do we get there? Family engagement in schools typically refers to activities which pertain to currently enrolled families. At home this might include reading to a child and helping with homework. Although most often the focus is on getting parents physically present at school events such as attending parent teacher conferences or volunteering time for various projects.
Any school that defines parent involvement by the number of in-person activities they host was likely stopped in their tracks when the pandemic hit and our school buildings closed. However, over time we saw many educators finding new ways to engage their families in the learning process. We saw schools offer virtual town halls, technology training sessions, home visits, and on-demand opportunities for back to school nights and other events.
With summer upon us (now I’m getting really optimistic!) we have an opportunity to take insights from our school year (knowing what our students need) and combine that with the creativity we had during covid to find new ways to keep our families connected over summer.
There’s significant benefits to keeping families engaged over summer.
Reduces “summer slide” in students. Keeping your families informed of learning opportunities helps minimize some of the achievement gains that are often lost during summer.
Limits enrollment surprises. Finding ways to keep your families “buzzin” about your school over summer helps ensure their children (and perhaps a few friends) will return next year.
Recruits new students. Many families choose their school based on the reputation in the community. The more families you have sharing stories about your school, the more likely you will add some new families next year.
Prepares students for next year. Summer is a great time for kids to prepare for the school year ahead whether that is academically, artistically, athletically or socially.
Build community. By providing opportunities over summer, you can further develop the relationships created during the school year.
5 Ways to Keep Your Families Engaged Over Summer
Now I’m sure this sounds like a lot of work! And that is exactly what we don’t want this to be. Let’s not forget some of the benefits of summer include unstructured playtime, no homework (or homework to grade!), and a chance to explore new interests.
So here’s a few tips to get you started.
1 - Create a Communication Plan
Even the best programs fall flat if no one knows about them! Consider the myriad of ways you communicate with families during the school year, and make a list if that helps. Then determine how you want to communicate over summer and share this with families. One communication method done well is better than five ways done poorly. A few suggestions:
Weekly newsletter - consider creating a new, simple template just for summer. We know many school newsletters can be quite lengthy during the school year so give yourself a break and focus on just the topics relevant to summer.
Social media - create a schedule that is reasonable to manage over summer based on your available resources.
Website - designate a page on your website for summer activities
2- Offer Learning Opportunities
Many families are concerned with COVID learning loss and looking for opportunities for their children to make up some of this work over summer. Consider offering summer school classes, tutoring sessions, book clubs or other academic activities. Look at programs available in your local community, or consider sharing parenting resources and project ideas children can do at home.
3- Share Summer Stories
This is a great way to keep everyone buzzin’ about your school. Set up a special email or hashtag and invite families to share their summer adventures with you, so you can post them on social media or in your summer newsletter. This could be a simple trip to the park with classmates or a summer road trip with the family. Have a school mascot? Create your own version of the Flat Stanley Project.
4- Participate in Community Events
Get active in your local community. Recruit members of your school’s parent group (e.g. PTO/PTA) to schedule a few events during summer. Consider walking in your local 4th of July parade, set up park playdates by grade level, or outdoor movie nights. Connect with local business partners to learn about jobs and internships for students and other events they host for families.
5- Back to School Tips
Get families excited about the next school year. Introduce new staff members in your summer communication. Share professional development programs your team is participating in. Create a back to school calendar with important dates. Develop a program for new families to connect with current families.
Join the Discussion
Family engagement is an integral part of a school's annual plan. It means students are supported, and that isn’t defined by the number of class parties they might attend.
Have a summer tip to share? We’d love to hear from you!
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About the Author
Jennifer Larson is the founder and CEO of Hive Digital Minds, mother to four children, and passionate about finding innovative ways to engage parents in their child’s learning journey. Her company’s flagship product SchoolBzz is the culmination of Jennifer’s 17 years in education – working with thousands of parents and educators on their school marketing and engagement strategies. Before founding Hive Digital Minds, Jennifer led the efforts of two successful charter public school initiatives in Douglas County, Colorado. These schools have been recognized nationally for their educational programs and currently serve over 1,800 students in grades PK-12. Jennifer has a degree in mathematics from the University of California, Santa Barbara and also received her MBA from the University of Denver, Daniels College of Business. She enjoys speaking on the topics of school marketing, family engagement, entrepreneurship, and the future of work and frequently guest lectures at the University of Denver and several high schools in her local community. Jennifer can be reached at email@example.com.