When a student is considering their options for college, in most cases, they will have that conversation with their parents, due to the fact that they have their best interest at heart, so they are automatically the ones who will help them make that decision. So how important is it to engage the families of the students who are transitioning from high school to their post-secondary plans?
It is super important, in fact, when families are engaged in their child’s college-going process, students are more likely to apply and enroll at a four-year university or two-year community college. That alone shows the impact an involved parent can have on their children’s actions, choices and future. When families and community members are involved in student learning and growth, students improve their academic performance and gain advocates that promote their success, helping them feel more confident at school and in their college process.
As the AppCAC adviser at McDowell High School, I have found that what works best for us is directly contacting the parents and keeping them informed. When I tell a student to schedule an appointment with me, they might or they might not schedule that appointment, but when I tell a parent to tell their child to come see me, the majority of the time, they are in my office the next day. This is why engaging the parent is crucial, they act as an accountability tool that keeps them in check when no one else is. Due to the pandemic, all schools nationally have been struggling with engaging with virtual students, not only with preparing them for their post-secondary plans, but also teachers are struggling with getting students to complete their classwork. As productivity and motivation levels have significantly decreased this school year, when teachers and staff can’t hold them accountable through a computer, parent’s have to take up the responsibility of making sure they are on top of things. Now keep in mind, we understand that a lot of families are going through difficult times right now, but we want to make sure that these students don’t make permanent decisions based on short-term problems.
The College Advising Corps’ text-based Family Academy has been a huge success in helping me engage with parents and keeping everything organized for data collection. Coming into a new school where no one knows who I am and what I do, Family Academy has allowed me to introduce myself to all parents and provide them the resource of simply shooting me a text with any questions that may come to mind. Another reason why I love the Family Academy texting platform is because of my location in Western North Carolina, in some cases calling a parent or setting up a virtual Zoom call may come with many interruptions due to limited internet connectivity and spotty service, but when I text them, there is no miscommunication, and it allows me to effectively provide all information and resources while keeping track of who I’ve spoken to and what about. This also allows you to provide the best answer when asked similar questions by multiple parents.
Other strategies that have worked for us is creating a flyer including QR codes to links of the resources needed and a contact list, our “Golden Ticket” which is where they write down their accounts information for CFNC, FAFSA and more to prevent them from losing their account info, printing that out and sending it by mail to all students, posting the flyer on all of our social media pages and placing the same flyer all over the school walls. Cold-calling has also been a good strategy, in which all a family member needs to do is answer. The easier you make it for students and parents, the more engagement you’ll receive. Of course, in a normal world, meeting with the parents in-person would be ideal. You get to know them and their situation instead of being “so and so’s mother or father,” but with a caseload of 315 students, managing text messages and phone calls have been easier to maintain.
I’d say the biggest benefit of engaging parents is having an accountability system and motivational boost for the students who have lost a lot of that due to the pandemic. During parent and family engagement I try to utilize these core beliefs to emphasize the importance of their involvement in the college-going process:
Four Core Beliefs
1. All families, no matter their income, race, education, language, or culture, have dreams for their children & want the best for them
2. All families have the capacity to support their children’s success
3. Families and school staff can and should be equal partners
4. The responsibility for building partnerships between school & home rests primarily with school staff
Raising the next generation is a shared responsibility. When families, communities and schools work together, students are more successful and the entire community benefits. Engaging with families has definitely been one of the highlights of my job position. A lot of my students are first-generation students, meaning parents who have not had the opportunities to attend college themselves have neither experience with the process of college preparation nor sufficient access to needed information. So it brings light to my day when I’m able to effectively guide parents and students of all backgrounds through this while learning throughout the process. As college advisers, we are here to provide support and knowledge and if we can’t find the answer, we know who can. It brings much joy knowing that the work I do has a huge impact on student success, and I gladly share the responsibility of making sure my students get to wherever it is they wish to go.