Great Alaska Schools
Parent Engagement Opportunity in Anchorage
Why Parent Engagement?
We know that there are many factors that lead to “great” or high quality schools. Where schools have proven to have the most positive change (with regard to graduation and readiness for career and college) it takes many factors to come together. Among the factors: leadership, teacher quality, curriculum, and parent and community engagement.
Most experts in education matters define parent engagement, to some extent or another, with the following elements:
· A welcoming environment at the school,
· Two-way communication between parents and school,
· Parents understanding how to support their students at home,
· Parents involved, on some level, in decision-making on school policies,
· Parents advocating for every child, and
· Strong community ties to schools.
At Great Alaska Schools, we see the Community Café model as a tool that includes many of the elements of strong parent/community/school engagement in the aforementioned definition. Great Alaska Schools is excited to work with ASD to grow a large group of parents and community members who are ready to co-host cafes in many neighborhoods. It is a no cost/low cost way that a group of enthusiastic parents can make a big difference.
Why Community Cafés?
Community Cafes are a proven way of gathering community members to share stories and conversation about issues that matter. Community members are moved to make wise choices for actions that will lead to changes for a better community.
What is a Community Café?
In essence, the gathering feels like a café, where people share stories in answering questions about how the community should address an issue, both as an individual and together with others in the community. Hosts from the community warmly invite others, design the questions, think of ways to make the setting comfortable and keep the threads of wisdom from the discussions together, reporting out about observations, commitments, and actions
Why this design for Great Alaska Schools?
Great Alaska Schools Anchorage’s mission statement is: We are a statewide, non-partisan coalition advocating for a quality public education for every child, to ensure a strong future for Alaska.
1. Achieve adequate, predicable, stable, and sustainable funding for the BSA, at levels comparable to 2011.
2. Ensure that public funds go to public schools.
3. Act to engage community members, leaders, and educators to partner in achieving efficient and effective education outcomes from our public schools, for all Alaskan students.
Where should we have a Community Café?
With the nature of the grassroots approach we think is best for helping to encourage positive results, we feel it is important to grow café experiences where the community (including the school Principal) is ready for them. They are ready when they are comfortable allowing this public conversation to take place, and when parents from that community are interested in learning about co-hosting a café. Conversations that include educators, parents, and community members have the greatest potential in strengthening the partnerships in education that may inspire the most student opportunities for success. Great Alaska Schools will assist the cafés and follow through with any help, such as the reporting and celebration of movement afterwards. That said, if a parent chooses to host a café about education in their respective home, for example, as opposed to a larger venue such as a school, this could also be very effective as well.
More Detail About Community Cafés
Grassroots approach -Members of the community determine what topics they feel the community needs to gather to converse about. The topics of conversation are derived from what matters most to the members of the community.
The invitation – Community members are invited in multiple ways, being warmly inclusive to anyone who might care about the issue.
The Set-up – The space is chosen based on where the community naturally gathers. The design is thoughtful of all senses, in order to make all individuals feel at ease and comfortable focusing on the issue. The feeling is a ‘café’ when people walk into the room, after they are warmly greeted, and feel welcome and at ease. The space is set-up to allow for groups of four or so to be near each other in conversation. Every detail is considered to bring people into the space with ease, including the welcome, signs, name tags, food and décor, etc. that make the people in the room comfortable.
The design – A warm welcome and pre-café announcements are made. Sometimes there is a kid café in an adjacent room. Questions about the key topic lead the conversation. The first question is a general dyad question where each person in the room practices sharing a story and listening to a story. The next few questions are talked about with four people. The questions that are asked do not presume to know the answer, do not evoke laundry lists, and are designed to inspire stories from which wisdom and values are drawn. Community members are encouraged to move to another table between questions to allow for new groupings of individuals. There is weaving of the whole room after individual questions and the closing is a centering time around something beautiful such as a poem, song, etc.
Keeping the movement about the issue going – The hosts (and helpers) put together the notes from the café (in long form, capturing everything and in short form, allowing for greater readership), reminding the community of the wisdom that came out of the discussions in a format that is easy to understand. They continue to follow the evolution of the discussion to determine what the community needs to get together about next. This keeps the energy alive and grows more interest in future actions, for those whom could not attend.
More cafés continue as a way to keep the community feeling tied together, empowered, and appreciated in the work as the community continues to improve.
Feel free to contact volunteer Alyse.firstname.lastname@example.org with more questions.
Photos from the recent Community Cafe at Rabbit Creek Elementary: