Beyond the Classroom
Family structures have changed significantly over the years and the impact on education has been substantial. While the “who” has changed – parents, families, caregivers, guardians, etc. – the importance of engagement to youth success has not. Researchers such as Dr. Steve Constantino, Dr. Karen Mapp, and Dr. Anne Henderson have studied family engagement for decades and each stress its importance for youth success. Their research recognizes that engagement is much more than hosting class parties, teacher conferences, and holiday programs, and it often takes place beyond the traditional school day.
Smaller group sizes, more frequent contact with families, and more informal learning environments provide afterschool programs the unique opportunity to support increased engagement of parents, families, and caregivers. As an extension of the traditional school day, afterschool programs are poised to build relationships with families and caregivers that may ultimately become the foundation of their engagement journey. Strategies such as including family voice and creating welcoming environments demonstrate a programs’ willingness to include and support families and caregivers. For example, family voice surveys or family focus groups give parents, families, and caregivers the opportunity to provide input and feedback on program activities. By creating welcoming environments, programs demonstrate their openness, both physically and emotionally, to involving every family in their child’s learning.
While increasing family engagement is not easy, the benefits should not be overlooked. Youth, families, schools, and afterschool programs benefit when family engagement is a priority. For example, complex subjects like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are often intimidating for families. Families and caregivers typically won’t encourage their children to pursue opportunities in fields they do not understand. Utilizing STEM activities to increase family engagement provides participants with a better understanding of these subjects, makes these subjects less intimidating, and increases the likelihood that these career fields will be promoted in the home.
Dr. Steven Constantino stated, “Families are the first and most influential teachers of their children.” Whether in the classroom during the school day, afterschool as part of an extended learning program, or in the home using take-home activities, family engagement should not be overlooked as a priority to student, family, and program success.
The West Virginia Statewide Afterschool Network (WVSAN) partners with The EdVenture
Group-WVFEC on various educational initiatives. To learn more about family engagement
in afterschool, contact the West Virginia Statewide Family Engagement Center,
Family Engagement Specialist Jennifer Wotring at
Jennifer Wotring, Senior Program Manager–The EdVenture Group
Family Engagement Specialist–West Virginia Family Engagement Center (WVFEC)