Engaging Parents from Day One

by Edith Rahimian, Dean of Instruction

YES Prep Dean of Instruction

In her seven years at YES Prep North Central, Edith Rahimian worked as a teacher, Grade Level Chair, and Director of Parent and Student Initiatives. She is now a Dean of Instruction at YES Prep Fifth Ward. As a first-generation college graduate, Edith is passionate about engaging parents in students’ journeys to college. The following post was developed from an interview with Edith about her time as YES Prep North Central’s Director of Parent and Student Initiatives.

As Director of Parent and Student Initiatives at YES Prep North Central, my goal was to engage parents who were new to YES Prep. This desire grew out of my realization that parents often didn’t recognize the difference between YES Prep and the neighborhood public school. They’d allow their student to make a decision to withdraw from YES without understanding how that choice might impact the student’s future. We needed to develop a close and purposeful relationship with parents on day one, so they could better support their students. In an effort to build that relationship, I revised or created a series of touchpoints for the parents of our incoming 6th graders:

6th Grade Signing Day: This is our first touchpoint, which is meant to parallel Senior Signing Day. After a new family receives their YES Prep lottery acceptance letter in the spring, parents of current students volunteer to call our newly-accepted families and welcome them personally to the event. At the event, students sign that they are accepting their place at YES Prep and that they commit to graduating from the school. We also have a panel of teachers, parents, and students from middle school and high school to provide new parents and students the opportunity to ask questions. Then junior and senior ambassadors give the families tours of the entire school, so they don’t feel like strangers when they walk onto our campus that summer.

YES Prep home visitHome Visits: The next touchpoint is the home visit. We have two staff members call the families and conduct a home visit with two juniors. In the past, we’d go to the house, introduce ourselves, and jump straight to the business of committing to college readiness. Instead of doing that, we give the students a guide for success with pictures of their 6th grade teachers and blurbs welcoming them to YES Prep. We also have students featured in the guide talking about their favorite parts of YES Prep, why they stay, and why they’re excited to graduate. We spend the majority of the visit getting to know the family and asking why they want their student to graduate from college. We talk about the purpose of our commitment to college readiness. And after we sign the commitment, we take a family picture where the student is holding the certificate from 6th Grade Signing Day. We give that picture to the parents at our Summer Parent Institute, so each touchpoint links to the next. It’s about building a culture and making them feel like part of a big family.

Registration: Registration involves a lot of paperwork and logistics, but we added other elements to get to know families. For example, we invite our juniors from the home visits– now rising seniors– to the event. They socialize with the parents. New students find out what color group they’ll be in for our summer camp, Trailblazer Camp (or T-Camp). We also share information about upcoming events, such as ONE Team, our series of parent sessions that occur once a month.

Parent Institute: The next step of parent onboarding is the Summer Parent Institute while the students are at T-Camp. It takes about 4 or 5 hours on a Saturday, so it’s a heavy commitment. But we had about 92% of our parents attend the last time we did it. We do five different sessions in English and Spanish to help parents learn about YES Prep’s philosophy, our discipline system (marks), what the purpose and rationale of Wallstreet is, what it means to be college-ready at the middle school level, and how to support students at home, both academically and emotionally. Our Student Support Counselors also provide a session on how to help students manage stress. We even have a session on literacy since a lot of our students come in as low readers and we want to provide strategies that the parents can use at home. At the end, we come back as a whole group and they receive the framed photo from the home visit along with a letter their student wrote during camp about what that student will need from his or her parent in the coming years.

Trailblazer Night: Our last event before school starts is Trailblazer night. It’s open to the whole school, but we do a heavy push to involve 6th grade parents. They’ll pick up uniforms, fill out lunch applications, and get their schedule. But again, we pair the logistics with a social opportunity. We have an ice cream party outside and have their teachers circulating and starting to develop those very important relationships.

Home Visit Reconnection Event: This is our final sixth-grade-only touchpoint, and we schedule it later in the six weeks. It’s a dessert social for the teachers, the families, and the seniors who attended the home visits. We want to facilitate conversations between the parents and students about how the year is going and what they need help with, so that parents and teachers can better support the students.

I strongly believe parents want to be part of the work we’re doing. They want to be partners with us. They want to be informed advocates for their students. It’s our job to break down the obstacles and barriers that exist from the beginning so that our parents can feel connected to the work we do for our students.

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