ICYMI: $3 Million Grant to Strengthen Family Engagement, Empower Families

District News Report – April-May 2014 Issue

The research is clear: Family involvement is a strong predictor for a student’s success in school, and the “transition-to-kindergarten” period is critical in establishing relationships between families and schools.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras gathered on February 18, along with officials from the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) and Ready to Learn Providence (R2LP), a program of The Providence Plan, to announce the awarding of a competitive $3 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3). Providence was one of 25 sites chosen from among 600 applications. With the support of the grant, Providence Schools and Ready to Learn Providence will engage parents, teachers and other school personnel in a program titled “Empowering Families.” At the heart of this initiative is Mind in the Making, an eight-session course that covers the seven life skills every child needs to succeed.

“Starting early and partnering with families are essential to helping kids succeed and I am pleased to have helped make these federal Investing in Innovation (i3) competitive grants possible to expand the reach of Mind in the Making.  This is a great platform for engaging families in their children’s learning and in their schools, giving parents and teachers a common language as they focus on the social, emotional and academic development of children in these critical early years,” said Sen. Reed, the author of the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013 (S. 1291), which seeks to target capacity-building and technical assistance for effective family engagement strategies, while encouraging state and school district flexibility to identify programming that works best for individual communities.

“Through this program, with the commitment from their families and educators, Rhode Island’s elementary school students will have another opportunity to achieve and succeed,” Governor Chafee said. “At a time when the state’s education system is focused on closing the ‘skills gap,’ Empowering Families is a key partnership in this vital effort.”

Participation in a Mind in the Making class, which will be offered in English and Spanish, is one of the best ways parents can strengthen the school readiness of their children. Many educators contend that competence in executive function skills is more important at school entry than knowledge of letters and numbers. Research shows that adults can indeed teach and promote these skills at home and in the classroom.

“The Investing in Innovation (i3) grant is an important partnership for our Providence schools and is another part of our efforts to put children on a path to success,” said Mayor Taveras. “This innovative curriculum will empower families to make informed decisions about how to develop lifelong learners and support students in their earliest years.”

“We are excited to partner with Ready to Learn Providence, and thrilled to have the support of this grant to amplify our outreach to families,” said Providence Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi. “In the long term, we envision a robust set of similar programs, and this is a fantastic first step.”

In Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, author Ellen Galinsky has identified the skills that students who reach their full potential in school — and in life — typically possess. These “executive function skills”— the skills that manage our emotions, intellect and behavior, such as focus and self-control — are the skills that allow us to reach our goals.

Galinsky, co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, was represented by an associate at the gathering, but sent her words of support.

“We are thrilled to be working with Providence, thanks to an i3 grant from the Department of Education to bring Mind in the Making’s learning communities and our movement to keep the fire for learning burning brightly in children’s eyes to Providence families,” said Galinsky.

The press conference was held in an apt location, at the Young-Woods Elementary School adjacent to the Student Registration Center, the first contact most families have with Providence schools. This winter R2LP and the Providence Community Library transformed a space in the center into an early learning nook, filling it with books and activities for families waiting to register their children for kindergarten. “It is a point of invitation,” says R2LP Director Leslie Gell.  “It tells parents the schools care about them and want their involvement. And by reaching them eight months before their children enter kindergarten, it’s a great opportunity to tell them about some of the ways they can prepare their children for school.”

Unlike many family engagement initiatives, Empowering Families will create opportunities for families and school professionals to learn together. With 2,580 families, 240 PPSD teachers and 160 other school personnel participating in Mind in the Making over the next four years, the classes will create a springboard for discussion among the adults in a child’s life. In addition to the parents and caregivers recruited at kindergarten registration, the class will be offered to families and school personnel (K-Grade 3) at all 21 elementary schools in Providence over the course of the grant.

In awarding this grant, the U.S. Department of Education requires substantial matching funds. That effort is underway thanks to the support of United Way of R.I., The Rhode Island Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. PPSD and R2LP continue to seek additional resources.