Family engagement leads to student success

A lifelong love of learning doesn’t begin or end in the brick-and-mortar confines of a classroom.

No matter a student’s specific interests, skill sets or learning style, they all need the right kind of encouragement and stimulation to grow. Whether it’s a kindergartener, an elementary school student, a middle schooler or a high school senior, their success in the classroom depends on support outside of the physical school building.

Staff at some of the most highly rated and successful private schools in Boulder County are well aware of this key to student success. Administrators, teachers and staff know that rigorous curriculum, extracurricular activities and a full class schedule can only go so far. For students to truly connect with a love of learning, they need to see a model in the behavior of parents and family members.

At institutions like the Friends School, a private PK-8 school in Boulder, parent and family engagement means more than just helping students with homework. Parent Council Co-Chairs Jess Torbin and Annie Youngman help foster a culture that involves parents at all levels of learning across grade levels.

“I wanted to get to know the wonderful teachers and staff and give back to a program that has given so much to us,” Youngman said.

At schools across Boulder County, parents and families are showing a similar stake in creating a culture of off-the-hours learning designed to encourage academic and personal success.

For example, at Flagstaff Academy, a tuition-free charter school in Longmont, that modeling comes in the form of parent engagement as part of the school’s broader culture. Flagstaff’s Parent Teacher Organization was founded to ensure that students see learning and involvement outside of the school day. The PTO helps organize and operate events ranging from community dinners to parent/teacher community get-togethers.

By making sure that the entire community has a chance to get together, communicate and encourage learning outside of the typical school day, Flagstaff Academy helps support the broader mission of the school.

“Our mission is to serve the school community and promote open communication and understanding between parents and staff at Flagstaff Academy,” PTO spokespeople point out on their website. “We carry out this mission by organizing events that provide a sense of community, by providing educational outreach and experiences and by fundraising to support supplemental education and materials.”

That same kind of work has an impact at Dawson School, a private college preparatory school located in Lafayette. While top-notch academics are a big part of the philosophy at Dawson, an admission-based institution that stresses college skills and preparation, parent engagement is a key part of making that emphasis approachable for students.

According to members of Dawson’s parent association, the school’s rigorous academics are only possible because of buy-in from parents and family members. They have chances to mix and mingle with students on campus, to help find resources for teachers and staff and to show kids that learning takes place in and outside of the classroom.

“(Parents) are an important and valued part of the Dawson community,” Dawson association members pointed out. “Being a parent or guardian of a current Dawson School student means you’re a member of the active DPA community and a welcome participant in all we do to make Dawson extraordinary.”

At Bixby School, a private school located in South Boulder, parents have a stake in many parts of the school’s operation, from read-a-thons to game nights to new parent welcoming events.

All of these events supplement in-classroom learning and teaching by showing a model of engagement and investment that extends to adults and kids alike.

“Volunteer parents organize fundraising and community-building events throughout the school year for Bixby,” school officials said. “This enriches the learning experience for both students and faculty.”

Boulder Country Day School, a private preschool, elementary and IB middle school in Boulder, takes that philosophy a step further, offering parent/child classes for kids 2 to 4 years old and their parents, family members or caregivers. These classes aim to forge that love of learning between adult and child early, featuring story-time, hands-on art and other elements designed to build those links at an early level.

Such classes, and such involvement, sets a promising foundation for future learning, one where a basis for language, literacy and lifelong learning is strong at an early age.

By Adam Goldstein, Raised in the Rockies