How Effective Family Engagement Makes a Difference

If it hadn’t been for parental involvement at Glendale Middle School, a large group of girls would be failing gym class for one simple reason – they couldn’t wear the uniform.

Nearly a quarter of the student population at Glendale is Muslim, and for religious reasons, Muslim girls are unable to wear short-sleeved t-shirts or shorts, the standard uniform at the Salt Lake City school. But thanks to Glendale’s Refugee Task Force – a group of families who fled their country because of political turmoil and settled in here – the girls are now able to participate in P.E.

Glendale Middle School students in science class.

The task force was formed last year, and they meet monthly with the staff at Glendale to discuss concerns and strategies for increasing their involvement in the school.

Glendale is a target site of NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign, which works to transform low performing schools through a number of measures, including developing family and community partnerships. Research shows that parent, family, and community involvement in education correlates with higher academic performance and school improvement. When schools, parents, families, and communities work together to support learning, students tend to earn higher grades, attend school more regularly, stay in school longer, and enroll in higher-level programs.

“I went into the first meeting with my own agenda, thinking I knew what we’d discuss, but it quickly turned into a “Three Cups of Tea” moment,” says Glendale’s Assistant Principal Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, who convenes the monthly meetings in collaboration with other educators at the school. “There were two interpreters and they explained to me that the community of refugees had already decided on the topics for discussion at the meeting. Topping the list was P.E. uniforms.”

Glendale’s Assistant Principal Jennifer Mayer-Glenn holds up the uniform made by the school’s sewing club for Muslim female students.

After several Google searches, Mayer-Glenn finally found an appropriate uniform — a long sleeve t-shirt dress with pants that could be worn underneath. She took photos of it to the sewing club, another parent group consisting of mainly Latina mothers, and within a week, they had a prototype.

The task force was thrilled and asked only that they change the color from white to black.

Parents Welcome in School

In addition to the sewing club, Glendale Middle also holds an after-school and evening knitting club. Mothers bring their small children, socialize with fellow parents, and create beautiful hats and scarves that help keep their families warm during the long, frigid Utah winters.

“We want parents to feel welcome and comfortable in our schools,” says Salt Lake Teachers Association President Susan McFarland. “When they feel welcomed, they’ll get more involved, which helps their children succeed academically.”

It wasn’t long ago that parents were afraid to become involved at Glendale Middle School. The school had a bad reputation for gang and drug activity and violence. A serious incident of racial violence once broke out in the school cafeteria and parents began pulling their kids out of the school. Enrollment eroded, and along with it, achievement.

But with a dedicated faculty and brand new administration – a new principal and two new assistant principals – along with the help of the Priority Schools Campaign, the school has developed strategies to make the school safer and bring in more parents.

Read the full story at NEA Priority Schools