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Perspective | We’ve analyzed 2,100-plus family surveys. This is what we’ve learned.

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Over the past two years, almost every aspect of the education system had to shift and adapt for the safety of our students, educators, and families. SchermCo’s family engagement and empowerment approach fluctuated with the changing times, but our efforts remained the same. We kept a steadfast focus on asking families what they need, creating meaningful opportunities to connect with the resources and supports they demand, and ensuring that families have the confidence and convenience to advocate for their children.

With schools back in person for the 2021-22 school year, we are back at it, applying what we’ve learned over the past two years through supporting families and schools primarily through a remote/virtual model.

We’re now working with 12 schools and approximately 12,000 families across Charlotte and Durham, ranging from elementary to high schools. We’re focused on applying an adapted approach to family engagement and empowerment efforts that combines the successful systems we established pre-pandemic with the lessons learned from supporting schools through the pandemic. 

We start every partnership with a family empowerment pre-survey to quantify families’ feelings toward their school related to engagement and empowerment and understand what resources they need. We distributed surveys using a hybrid approach, employing physical paper and electronic surveys. From 2,112 pre-survey responses, this is what we learned are the top areas of need.

Top-requested parent resources

Support Area# of requests% of total surveys
Physical Health/Exercise56926.9%
Financial Literacy45121.4%
Job Training44921.3%
Mental Health40919.4%
Access to Technology39618.8%

Physical health and exercise

For the second year in a row, health and wellness resources are one of the top requests from families. The pandemic has heightened awareness of health and increased demand for access to health resources and movement-based activities.

Financial literacy

The pandemic’s consequences extend beyond health. It also exacerbated economic hardships for families. Financial literacy is at the forefront of families’ concerns.

Top-requested student resources

Support Area# of requests% of total surveys
Academic support/tutoring86641%
Homework help/tools79437.6%
After school/summer programs65030.8%
Academic support: Math64730.6%
Academic support: Reading/Literacy62629.6%
Physical Health/Exercise58327.6%

Academic support/tutoring

The pandemic brought the classroom into the home, and parents received a front-row seat into what their students are learning. Families have consistently requested academic support over the years, but this year’s survey results also yielded a surge in math tutoring requests. 

Top-requested resources for elementary students

Support Area# of requests% of total surveys
Academic support/tutoring49660.5%
Homework help/tools45255.1%
Academic support: Reading/Literacy42952.3%
After school/summer programs42852.2%
Academic support: Math36945%

Looking specifically at requests from elementary school families, we see that academic support in reading/literacy is of high importance to families. 

Top-requested resources for middle school students

Support Area# of requests% of total surveys
Academic support/tutoring18646.4%
Homework help/tools17443.4%
Physical health/exercise13232.9%
After school/summer programs13032.4%
Academic support: Math11328.2%

Looking specifically at requests from middle school families, we see that resources in physical health for students is of high importance for these families. We also see that math support is requested higher than other subject areas.

Top-requested resources for high school students

Support Area# of requests% of total surveys
Academic support/tutoring18434.8%
Homework help/tools16831.8%
Academic support: Math16531.3%
Mental health16130.5%
Scholarship opportunities14026.5%

Looking specifically at requests from high school families, we still see academic support as the top priority, and similar to middle school, we see that math is the top subject area for support. Survey responses from high school families also emphasize the changing needs of students and families as they age through the education system. Mental health is a top priority, underscoring the challenges of growing up in a rapidly changing world shaped by the pandemic, social media, and remote learning. High school families also express their desire for resources to support their child’s postsecondary education, including scholarships, college access, and job opportunities and training.

Response and programming

Although schools have returned to full-time in-person learning, our event programming is taking a hybrid approach to reach families. Based on what families have expressed they are most comfortable with, we’re planning and implementing virtual and in-person events with schools. SchermCo is anticipating supporting our 12 partner schools with an average of 3-4 events per school, or around 33 family-focused programs.

We’ve already begun putting this to action with our partner schools resulting in some great achievements:

As previously mentioned, health and wellness is a top priority for many families. We hosted a Community Resource Showcase with partner school Idlewild Elementary, featuring over a dozen community partners. The event included a vaccine clinic where over 25 students received their first shot, and five parents received their booster. 

Partner Sugar Creek Charter School opted to hold their first events virtually in response to families and staff voicing this is the model most comfortable to them at this time. Nearly 250 families joined over two events targeted at either elementary or middle schools. Families shared the important information learned:

“Learning that our Scholars have some form of homework every night. Even if it’s only reading.”

“Everything that was talked about was useful. I got a clear understanding of what my child is learning and what he needs to work on in the future.”

We returned to the building at Movement School Freedom K-5, hosting a College Homecoming Curriculum Night, which welcomed nearly 90 families and over 300 attendees. Families shared what they learned/appreciated about the event:

“Getting an opportunity to see a ‘day in the life’ of a 2nd grader at Movement. [It] was significant to see and hear about the school schedule and various activities they engage in throughout the day.”

We have welcomed Healthy Start Academy, a new partner school located in Durham, our first school outside of Charlotte, and the first school we will be supporting exclusively remotely. Successfully supporting our schools through virtual meetings and events over the past year and a half gave us the confidence and skill set to pilot a full-remote support option. We supported a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration which welcomed over 300 attendees to their school parking lots and outdoor areas. 

Families remarked that they valued the event for “Showing scholars and families how to celebrate diversity and culture” and, “The family/school bonding was great!”

A staff member shared, “Mingling with the families and as a teacher [provided] the opportunity to meet and talk with scholars and parents outside of academics.”

We have also switched to facilitating Family Empowerment Committee meetings virtually. The virtual meeting model provides more access to families and staff to join from wherever life is demanding at that moment, whether that be calling in from the car, a child’s basketball practice, their office or classroom, or from the comfort of their home.

With physical school doors open for students, but limitations on families entering the building, it is essential to create open communication channels for families and teachers/staff, opportunities for families to learn about what’s happening in the classroom, and how they can supplement and support at home. We continue to support our partners to innovate on how they reach and engage families to create meaningful engagement opportunities for all. We know that when families are invited to a seat at the table, whether in a Zoom room or at a conference table, relationships are strengthened, trust is created, and outcomes are greater for all.

As always, there’s more to do, and more to come.

Kelsey Van Dyke

Kelsey Van Dyke is the director of family empowerment at SchermCo, a national social-impact implementation firm that offers strategic advising, organizational development, and implementation services to schools and education-focused organizations that support underserved communities.