Engaging Families in Student Success

By Jeannine Huenemann | November 4, 2021

Collaborating with families in your GEAR UP community improves outcomes for your students. Research shows that when families are interested, engaged, and care about student outcomes, students benefit. Family expectations are connected with students having higher grades and test scores, regular attendance in school, better social skills, and improved behavior.

Parents at a workshop

GEAR UP Parent Summits, like this one in 2016, engage families in student outcomes

An event for families

Gunnison Valley High School holds an annual senior family meeting in the fall

FAFSA night at Logan High

Logan High School hosted a FAFSA night on Oct 10 for 42 families

AGEAR UP Coordinators, we know that you work hard at family engagement and involvement. This article is for those of you that are new to your school or looking for additional resources and ideas. National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) has collected resources from GEAR UP programs across the country into the core components for building a successful family engagement program.

The Family Engagement Starter Kit for All is a free resource, created in collaboration with NCCEP’s Family Engagement Advisory Committee. It provides information to develop and improve family engagement efforts. If you are creating a program from scratch, this resource is a great place to start.

To give you a headstart, we have highlighted the core components of this resource as a shortcut to walk through the steps of building your own program at your school. Below is an outline and a short description of each component of downloadable resources available in the Starter Kit.

Get to know your families

Family is defined as parents, guardians, and dedicated adults who care for the GEAR UP student and may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, or older siblings. As a result, families come in all shapes and sizes and may have little or no experience with education after high school. This means that they may be learning what is expected of them along with our students. It is important to be aware of the barriers to learning when planning and communicating GEAR UP services.

Plan for engagement

Engaging families involves more than providing a GEAR UP service or sharing overall information about the importance of going to college. The three main steps to engagement can be seen as creating conversation, involving families in successful student outcomes, and establishing meaningful relationships.

Build Trust

Trust comes from creating an environment where families feel confident that the information you share with them is accurate and that you have their best interests in mind. Getting to know your families and starting slow are the ways you can work toward trusting relationships. 

Don't forget data

As the NCCEP Starter Kit says “It wouldn’t be by GEAR UP, for GEAR UP without the Prove component. Data is an integral part of our work and this section shares what to think about, who you might talk to, and some examples of how to collect data.” Activity sign-in sheets can be found in your site coordinator manual.

Getting started

Some of our GEAR UP office staff attended the session titled Intentional Family Engagement: Pathways to Success at the 2021 NCCEP Capacity-Building Workshop. In the discussion afterward, we came up with these three ideas for involving families in your school program:

  • Invite families to attend campus visits
  • Find GEAR UP champions, or advocates, in your community
  • Build a GEAR UP enrichment board with students and parents to plan events

Below is a list of events and activities for students and families shared by our GEAR UP coordinators. These have worked well at our local schools over the past few years:

  • Hold a FAFSA night to fill out the form online
  • Senior Parent meeting
  • Invite our GEAR UP College Advisors to help out
  • Parent University with short classes on emotional well-being, financial aid, and college prep for seniors
  • Offer translation services and transmitter/headsets available at events
  • Have a Latino Family Night
  • Highlight GEAR UP clubs and activities at an end of the year event
  • Have a motivational speaker or alumni evening event

Other Family Engagement Resources

There are also many good resources available online from GEAR UP programs across the country. Here are a few more guides and toolkits to get you started.

If you like what you see above or in the Family Engagement Starter Kit for All and have further questions, the NCCEP’s Capacity Building Workshop is a good place to start. They offer sessions each year led by many GEAR UP professionals that include discussion and resources. Review the agenda for the upcoming workshops, and plan to attend sessions with your peers for more family engagement ideas.