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Building connections among home, school, and community.

Scenario One." Mr. Caldwell looks through the schedule of parent conferences and notices that one family again didn't return the half sheet he sent home or respond to his e-mail. He spoke with the morn a month ago and reinforced how important it was that they meet to discuss their son's progress in his class. Shaking his head, he wonders if there's any sense in continuing to try with this particular family.

Scenario Two: Suzanne pulls her daughter's folder out of her backpack and another brochure for a fundraising opportunity falls out. She knows their family budget can't take another hit and she wishes she could support her child's school in other ways.

Scenario Three: Principal Lopez sits at her desk poring over the student enrollment data. She notices a significant number of students who identify as speaking Asian-Pacific languages at home, which is new to her school. She remembered someone mentioning a large group of refugees joining the community. She wasn't sure where to find resources for her teachers to use with this community.

These scenarios and others like them play out in schools, communities, and households around the world. The context shifts and the actors change, but parental involvement and community connections remain areas of concern. Recent research on parental involvement has explored connections between parental involvement in school and children's academic achievement (Bower & Griffin, 2011; Vogel, 2006), especially in minority families (see Dotson-Blake, 2010; Kim, 2009). While many schools have active parent organizations and a base of parents who offer additional support, others struggle to make connections with their parents or community members. Even in places with active parent organizations, some groups of parents remain underrepresented.

This article offers suggestions for building connections among families, schools, and community organizations and for capitalizing on multiple methods of involvement for the benefit of all students. I present a framework for six types of involvement in schools, providing questions and strategies to guide conversations about increasing and diversifying parental and community involvement.

Overlapping Spheres of Influence: Home, School, and Community

Children enter school having spent five years guided by their experiences at home and in the community. No two children, even those in the same household, will be influenced by those experiences in the same way. For decades, Epstein and colleagues have explored the connections between family and school relations and developed a model that presents the relationships among home, school, and community as overlapping spheres of influence that affect children. Their research has shown "parents, students, and teachers benefit most from practices that increase the overlap in school and family spheres of influence all along the developmental time line" (Epstein, 1987, as reprinted in Epstein, 2011, p. 39). Indeed, it is virtually impossible to separate the spheres of influence, although the gaps often seem larger as students progress through formal education.

Within these spheres of influence, research by the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS) has centered on a framework for six types of involvement that involve parents, students, teachers, and community partners: parenting, learning at home, communicating, decision-making, volunteering, and collaborating with the community (Epstein & Sheldon, 2006, as reprinted in Epstein, 2011 ; National Network of Partnership Schools, n.d.). Strategies schools can use to boost each type of involvement follow.

Guiding Schools' Engagement With Parents and Community Parenting: Assisting families in understanding child development and supporting their children's academic work. Think of your mission, vision, and school culture. Is there a shared understanding among family, school, and community entities that families are children's first teachers (North Carolina Ready Schools Collaboration Team, 2011)? One idea to support this vision is opening school media centers as family resource centers one evening monthly, providing time for parents to connect with each other, school staff, and community organizations that support parenting, like a local literacy council, higher education institution, or library.

Learning at Home" Providing information that supports learning at home and helping families engage in curriculum-related conversations. Do parents feel valued and supported in their roles as teachers? Schools can use the family resource center to engage parents in methods to support their students' learning. Teachers also can send home or post on a website specific information about curricular content. This enables parents to engage their children in conversations about their academics and support the work of the teachers. It is important to make materials shared with families as free of education jargon as possible, to avoid language barriers (North Carolina Ready Schools Collaboration Team, 2011).

Communicating: Emphasizing communication in both directions, from schools to families and from families to schools. Many teachers and schools send newsletters and e-mails home, and some districts have recently instituted phone systems that automatically call the homes of all students to notify them of announcements, school closings, or important events in the school. However, communication from families to schools can be limited. How well do you know the families you serve? Have you conducted a needs assessment? Alternatively, if you have needs in the building, can you identify parents with the ability to assist and help provide for the school's needs? Schools can develop family surveys in multiple formats to gather this information.

Communication may be the problem Mr. Caldwell faces in scenario one. There are many reasons why parents may not be responding to his requests for a conference. Perhaps they are unable to meet at the times he has selected and do not know they can request a different time. It may be that the parents do not want to seem like they do not agree with the teacher's practice. In some cultures, it is considered disrespectful for a parent to question the authority of a teacher. Working to develop an open line of communication in which parents are comfortable addressing problems can help Mr. Caldwell.

Decision-making: Including parents and community members from diverse backgrounds on school committees and gaining their input on school decisions. Is it clear to parents and community members that their input is appreciated? After gathering their information and perspectives through a needs assessment or survey, identify ways they can be involved in school decision-making. Consider developing a community-school team that involves stakeholders in all three overlapping spheres of influence, being careful to schedule meetings for times when all partners can participate equitably. Alternatively, you can have members at different levels; some partners can attend meetings and others can be involved in specific projects, based on their availability (North Carolina Ready Schools Collaboration Team, 2011).

Volunteering: Recruiting, training, and organizing support in whichever sphere it is needed--at home, at school, or in the community. Parents don't have to come to school to be involved. Perhaps some of the reasons parents don't attend conferences also keep them from supervising field trips, tutoring students during the school day, or otherwise helping out in the building. While many families, like Suzanne's, cannot support the school financially by participating in fundraisers, they may be able to use their skills to create materials at home to send to school. For example, a kindergarten teacher can send home requests for parents to cut out or sew materials for the Thanksgiving play. Suzanne can help in her daughter's school without having to use her family's limited finances to do so.

Collaborating With the Community: Actively seeking community resources to support the overlap of schools, families, and communities and engaging together to ensure student success.

Community organizations and groups often have assets that can help support all students. Principal Lopez can benefit from partnering with community organizations to serve the newly arrived refugee students in her school. Social services, faith-based, or community development organizations that are well-connected in the community may not know how to become involved in school processes. Administrators can create an open atmosphere where local agencies feel welcome in the schools as equal partners in the success of all children.


Remember the power of partnerships. "Without partnerships, educators segment students into the school child and the home child, ignoring the whole child. This parceling reduces or eliminates guidance, support, and encouragement for children's learning from ... other adults in the community" (Epstein, 2011, p. 4). Shifting practice to create a stronger overlap among the three spheres of influence in children's lives can positively impact their futures.


Bower, H. A., & Griffin, D. (2011). Can the Epstein model of parental involvement work in a high-minority, high-poverty elementary school? A case study. Professional School Counseling, 15(2), 77-87.

Dotson-Blake, K. E (2010). Learning from each other: A portrait of family-school-community partnerships in the United States and Mexico. Professional School Counseling, 14(1), 101-114.

Epstein, J. L. (2011). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools (2nd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Kim, Y. (2009). Minority parental involvement and school barriers: Moving the focus away from the deficiencies of parents. Educational Research Review, 4(2), 80-102.

National Network of Partnership Schools. (n.d.). Research and evaluation. Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

North Carolina Ready Schools Collaboration Team. (2011). Ready Schools toolkit part 2for community-district teams: Pathways to success for young children kindergarten to third grade (1st ed.). Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Partnership for Children and Public Schools of North Carolina.

Vogel, C. (2006). Building a STRONG community partnership. District Administration, 42(6), 66-72.

Amy Garrett Dikkers, Assistant Professor,

University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Susan Catapano, Editor
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Title Annotation:Family Connections
Author:Dikkers, Amy Garrett; Catapano, Susan
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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