Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer
Families are the first and most influential teachers of their children, and it is with this in mind that the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) is celebrating National Parental Involvement Day on November 18. As part of American Education Week, National Parental Involvement Day gives schools the opportunity to celebrate and encourage the role families play in their children’s education.
In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum issued a proclamation promoting Nov. 18, 2021, as Family Engagement Day. Family Engagement is very important to NDDPI and efforts are continually being made across the state to increase partnerships with families and schools.
“Superintendent Baesler and the NDDPI are dedicated to families being engaged in the education of students in North Dakota,” said Sara Mitzel, NDDPI’s assistant director of Assessment, adult education program manager, and Family Engagement Core Team member.
The importance of family collaboration was one of the reasons the Family Engagement Cabinet was formed in 2019. The members meet quarterly and provide valuable advice, ideas, and opinions on how North Dakota families and schools can work together to support the education of all children.
One of these members, Jayce Schumacher, a family engagement coordinator from Grafton, shared some of her successful family engagement activities.
“Every school is different,” she said. “We know what works for ours and tailor the activities to our families. We have done Family Game Nights and Camp Nights where people came in and sat under tents and read books.
“We will be celebrating Family Engagement Day on November 16 with a Turkey Dinner Night. We will provide dinner for all students and their families and then play bingo.
“As COVID hit, that changed the rules of engagement, and we thought, ‘how can we interact with families safely?’ So, we tried bingo on Facebook Live. Since we were doing it on Facebook, we could look at the analytics and see how many people were participating, and we had about 300 people play!
“Since we had success with that event, we decided to try a Virtual Family Art Night. The first 100 who registered got an art kit. We partnered with a local artist, and she came up with an easy drawing for the kiddos to do.”
Another event they held was a Candy Cane Hunt, right before Christmas, partnering with the local Chamber of Commerce. But probably the biggest success was the School Carnival held last May.
“We had over 1,000 people attend,” said Schumacher. “It was held at the local hockey arena and everything was free. I kept hearing teachers comment how many families they were seeing that they had never met before.”
Check out the Grafton Century Elementary School Facebook page and go to the ‘Events’ tab to get more details on these events. There is also a North Dakota Family Engagement page on Facebook. Another resource for inspiration is Project Appleseed, which provides numerous resources to aid in planning events. Their Activity Planning Guide gives detailed ideas for 30 different activities schools can do to encourage family participation.
“I feel this is perfect timing (for Family Engagement Day) as parents have become more engaged in the education of their students during the pandemic,” said Mitzel. “Parents have a better understanding of what their children need to know.”
“The pandemic has definitely brought family engagement to the forefront,” agreed Lucy Fredericks, NDDPI’s Indian/Multicultural Education director. “Parents are more engaged, having to help their children navigate distance learning.”
Family Engagement Day provides an opportunity for schools and families to honor and highlight powerful contributions parents and caregivers provide at school and at home to support student success. Families getting involved in their children’s education has been shown to dramatically increase academic success and meet the needs of the whole child.
Families provide a critical foundation for their children to learn and providing opportunities for more family engagement is a great way for schools to build on that foundation. North Dakota school districts are encouraged to participate in Family Engagement Day on November 18 and post photos of their events with brief descriptions to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #NationalParentalInvolvementDay and #NDFamilyEngagement.
There are many professional development opportunities for educators regarding family engagement, including a book study on Dr. Steven Constantino’s book, ‘Engage Every Family: Five Simple Principles’ and Epsteins’ Six Types of Parental Involvement. Contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lucy at email@example.com for more information.