Have you ever wondered how you can level up your family’s involvement on your school’s campus? Or where you can find answers to all of your questions about school events, fundraisers, and programs? Your school’s Family Engagement Specialist is here to assist!
Sarah Besand, a teacher and Possip Reporter, explains the role and goals of a school’s Family Engagement Specialist.
While job duties vary greatly from school to school, Family Engagement Specialists aim to serve you and your family. Their goals include increasing family involvement, directing families toward programs to address specific needs, and helping families feel more involved in their school community.
We spoke with Rachel Hippel, Family Engagement Specialist at Eakin Elementary in Nashville, TN to find out more about this role at schools. Before becoming a Family Engagement Specialist a decade ago, Rachel was a teacher in the community, and she relies on that experience to excel in her position.
Family Engagement Specialists’ Main Goal
Just as schools across the world bring unique assets to their campus, the role of a family engagement specialist can also vary from school to school. However, Rachel says that daily tasks “always aim to support students, families, and teachers by bridging the gap between school and home.” At her school in particular, Rachel sets specific goals that she works toward every day. She shares that her role “involves connecting families with resources to help meet clothing, food, backpacks/other school supply needs, and also connecting them with other professionals in our school building who can assist their student.”
In roles like this one, families often wonder: when should you reach out to your family engagement specialist? While the job description for this type of specialist varies, Rachel offers families a guide for how to utilize your specialist on a day-to-day basis. She shares, “For me, anything that makes school success feel like a challenge is an area I’d like to assist with! If I can’t personally answer a question or meet a need, I can connect families with counselors, social workers, or other support staff, and provide a listening ear and encouragement as well.”
How Family Engagement Specialists Can Help With Attendance Challenges
Family Engagement Specialists also assist with student attendance. As we know, students learn so much more when they are in school regularly, and your family engagement specialist can greatly help with attendance-related needs. Rachel shares that she often acts as a liaison between the school and families. This means she helps schools stay in alignment with district guidelines while also assisting with needs families have that may provide a barrier to their student’s attendance. She shares, “For me, the most important thing is building solid, respectful, warm relationships between teachers and families. Students should want to come to school, and parents should feel good about sending them each day (when they’re healthy, of course.) Maintaining friendly open dialogue between home and school is critical.”
Top 3 Tips to Keep Families Engaged and Informed
So much of the family engagement specialist role revolves around connecting new families to the school community, while also keeping established families engaged as well. Here are Rachel’s Top 3 Tips for families to keep engaged and informed throughout the whole school year:
- Sign up for all the messaging apps. She shares, “It can be super frustrating because there are often multiple apps/messaging sources to deal with, but it’s worth the effort to feel connected and informed.”
- Keep the main office informed. Rachel’s rule of thumb is: “If your contact information changes, make sure the main office knows so they can update your phone number or email address in the district’s computer system. That way you’ll continue to be reachable when call-outs or online newsletters go out, as well as if there’s an emergency situation.”
- Engage with other families. Rachel advises, “Try to meet and/or connect with some families of your student’s classmates. They can be invaluable sources of information and support.”
We hope Rachel’s expertise as a family engagement specialist helps you and your family as you navigate utilizing this specialist at your school! They are there to build families and schools up through compassion and connections with resources. We can’t wait to hear what a difference this makes in your family’s involvement on your campus.