Improving Education Starts Long Before School Begins

 

104,249: that’s how many children and youth ages birth to 24 live in Escambia County.

And that’s our number.

What will it take to improve their educational outcomes and connections to the workforce? These are the central questions Achieve Escambia is tackling.

But where do we begin? Doesn’t it start in the home?


I get these questions a lot, and the answers are difficult to unpack. In fact, family engagement is often called the missing piece in collective impact networks like Achieve Escambia. But parenting adults and family members are the people who arguably can have the greatest impact on a person’s life.

Why do we have such a hard time talking about this? Because it’s really challenging to conceptualize, much less implement and measure, exactly what we can do as a community to help families succeed.

As a parent of two students in the Escambia County School District, I have a couple ideas of what we can do to fill in the “missing piece” of family engagement. First, as family members, we can be present in our own neighborhood, school and community to see the unseen and lend a hand to those in need.

Second, we can all “Achieve Escambia” by using data to question assumptions about our schools and our community, and encourage others to do the same.

Is that enough? The vast majority of American children spend just 15 percent of their time in school from kindergarten to 12th grade. If we are to influence the other 85 percent, we must find new ways to engage our entire community, including parents and caregivers, in the effort.

How can we work together to help caring adults build the types of relationships that powerfully influence educational outcomes – character strengths like being motivated to learn, responsible and caring toward others?

A growing body of research shows such character strengths are as influential as IQ in determining life outcomes not only in school, but also in the workplace, and in areas such as health and criminality.

In fact, the quality of parent-child relationships is 10 times more powerful than demographics in predicting whether children are developing those critical character strengths. That means more powerful than race, ethnicity, family composition, and family income.

Most family engagement efforts focus on getting parents to help with homework or to participate in a range of activities at school. For example, the U.S. Department of Education tracks parent involvement based primarily on simple things, like whether parents volunteered, attended an event, or met with a teacher at least once during the school year.

All of those are potentially valuable endeavors, but many parenting adults don’t have the time or skills, or are not empowered, to serve as their child’s first teacher or push curriculum changes.

But that’s OK, because parenting adults from all backgrounds still have the capacity to be the change for their children. Call it the power of a loving home – a power we have yet to fully tap into as a community and as a society.

For our work ahead, the Achieve Escambia network will be exploring ways to turn this amazing evidence into improvement on behalf of those 104,249 babies, kids, teens and young adults who are our future.

Kimberly Krupa is the director of Achieve Escambia. She can be reached at director@achieveescambia.org.

 
Jill Thomas