Three Models of Parent Engagement, One Philosophy for Success

Source: Elev8 Baltimore Earlier this month, the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) hosted over 1,000 people from all 50 states at its National Family & Community Engagement Conference in Pittsburgh. The conference’s speakers touted experience ranging from early childhood education to community engagement and teacher training.

Three sessions provided a deep-dive into family engagement strategies being implemented in Sacramento, Baltimore, and Los Angeles, respectively. While each program has a distinctively different style, they all employ a “family first” philosophy that drives their strategy and serves as the foundation for their success.


Sacramento City Unified School District: Parent Leadership Pathway Training Series

The Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) serves 43,175 students across 75 campuses. Its student body is diverse, with approximately 37% Hispanic or Latino, 17% Asian, 18% African American, and 19% White.[1] Nearly 75% of SCUSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 40% do not speak English at home.

SCUSD’s Office of Family and Community Empowerment supports a “Parent Leadership Pathway” program that focuses on the following goals:

  1. Provide parents the tools to become active partners in their child’s education through research-based curriculum.
  2. Build parent engagement capacity at school sites via an intentional and purposeful pathway (Emerging, Learning, and Leading).
  3. Create school and district collaborative parent partners.
  4. Offer an interactive experience for parents with hands-on activities.
  5. Support college- and career-ready student achievement.

The Parent Leadership Pathway organizes parents into three groups: Tier I (Emerging Parent Partners), Tier II (Learning Parent Partners), and Tier III (Leading Parent Partners). The program puts parents at the center of their learning experience: Before creating curriculum for each tier, SCUSD hosts parent focus groups to glean topics of interest.

Once topics are selected, each tier follows a similar workshop design that incorporates interactive activities, homework assignments, a wrap-up to check for understanding, and a session evaluation. The workshops are intentionally designed with a mid-meeting break, as parents expressed their desire to create meaningful connections and support systems through this program. These breaks have helped SCUSD parents to organically develop an engaged community of peers. They now use this time to exchange ideas and problem-solve together, but also to celebrate birthdays, professional accomplishments, and parenting milestones.

Below are the respective tier goals and sample session topics that are co-developed with parent focus groups.

Tier 1: Emerging Parent Partners

The goal of the Emerging Parent Partners program is to empower parents to take on the important role they play in their child’s education. Sample topics in this tier include:

  • Supporting Your Child at Home
  • Building Home-School Communication
  • District Structure & Tools

Tier 2: Learning Parent Partners

The goal of the Learning Parent Partners program is to provide parents a deeper understanding to further engage them in their child’s education and ensure academic success. Sample topics in this tier include:

  • Goal Setting
  • Report Cards Linked to Common Core
  • Planning Your Child’s Path to College and Career

Tier 3: Leading Parent Partners

The goal of the Leading Parent Partners program is to give parents the tools to fulfill their role as leaders at school site and district levels. Sample topics in this tier include:

  • Developing Leaders
  • Conducting Effective Meetings
  • Leadership Opportunities at Your School and Analyzing Data


Elev8 Baltimore Community School

Elev8 Baltimore is a community school that provides out-of-school time opportunities, school-based health services, and targeted resources, support and outreach to families in Baltimore.

Elev8 Baltimore works with middle grade students (5th–8th) and their families in four East Baltimore schools. The program employs a holistic approach to engaging families by connecting parents with their children’s 1) classroom learning, 2) development opportunities outside of school, and 3) overall health and wellness.

Out-of-School Time Opportunities (OST)

Elev8 Baltimore extends learning opportunities for students beyond the classroom and traditional school year by providing high-quality afterschool and summer programs. Elev8 distinguishes itself by employing a full-time Community Coordinator that is present on each campus. The Community Coordinator acts as the bonding agent between the school’s parents and its students, developing creative ways to engage families and build community through activities such as:

  • Backpack Tuesdays, when parents can expect key announcements and family engagement opportunities to be sent home via printed flyers in their students’ backpacks;
  • Wheels on Meals, a meal delivery service during inclement weather days (personally delivered by the Coordinator and school principal) to provide healthy food to families who might otherwise miss meals during these times; and
  • Parent Passports, whereby parents have physical “passports” that are “stamped” each time they attend a school event to show appreciation and encourage their continued participation.


Elev8 Baltimore partners with Baltimore Medical System to provide both preventative medical care and emergency care services onsite at each of its schools. By featuring a medical clinic on every campus, students and their parents have access to physical exams, dental and vision services, and immunizations on an as-needed basis.


Elev8 Baltimore offers families a wealth of resources focused on promoting financial stability, a healthy lifestyle, and ongoing education. Its workforce development services include career assessments, job placement, and case management. Parents are surveyed to determine which education topics and community speakers are of most interest.


First 5 LA: Best Start

First 5 LA is an early childhood advocate working in 14 neighborhoods across Los Angeles County to ensure every child enters kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life. Its “Best Start” program focuses on building supportive communities where children and families can thrive.

First 5 LA’s guiding principle is simple: “Just as children do better in strong families, families do better in strong communities.” The organization believes that for young children to succeed, they need to be nurtured by families who feel supported, safe, and connected.

Its “Best Start” program brings together parents, caregivers, residents and community-based organizations to develop strategies for creating their ideal neighborhood to support families and children.  The organization helps communities to implement actions focused on three categories of results:

  • Result #1 - Family Capacities: Parents understand stages of child development and are able to help their children at each stage. They can manage everyday stress and have a nurturing relationship with their child.
  • Result #2 - Social Connections: Parents have relatives, friends, neighbors, and/or other parents they can turn to when they want to share concerns, solve problems, or seek advice.
  • Result #3 - Concrete Supports: Parents know how and where to obtain services they need for their family.

First 5 LA empowers each community it serves through a customized, family-centered approach. The First 5 LA team facilitates a framework through which parents and community members move from creating a vision for change to implementing tangible action steps. These stages include:

  • Stage 1: Select a family result (i.e., family capacities, social connections, or concrete supports as noted above).
  • Stage 2: Tell the story behind the data (i.e., break down local data to be easily understood and relevant to community members).
  • Stage 3: Select a target population (i.e., define the segment(s) of the community the effort will aim to reach).
  • Stage 4: Determine tactics (i.e., specify the strategies that will be implemented in order to achieve the desired result).
  • Stage 5: Measure success (i.e., issue RFP to organizations to help implement strategies and create mechanisms for capturing/analyzing data).


Each of these family engagement models uses distinctive, place-specific strategies tailored to their individual communities’ needs. But all of them put parents and families at the center of their work, which drives the effectiveness of their programs.

Thanks to SCUSD, Elev8 Baltimore, and First 5 LA for sharing their respective approaches to effectively engaging parents and families in their children’s development and learning.

[1] About 5.3% of students are two or more races or ethnicities.