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Two-Year Effort Aims to Increase Community Engagement in Education

A one-year study on community engagement in public education found that empowering parents and the community to be more active in their children’s education could improve outcomes for students.

That's according to a one-year analysis done Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) on behalf of the Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowments. As a result, Heinz Endowments is supporting a two-year effort to increase community engagement.

“It’s our belief that our schools and communities are stronger when families, particularly those who are low-income and/or African American, are resourced to advocate for their own best interests and for those of their children,” said Melanie Brown, education program officer with the endowments.

Ten Pittsburgh organizations will participate, each sending a small group of parents and members to trainings on how to better advocate within the school system. The hope is that this helps make Pittsburgh Public Schools stronger.

“Family engagement at all different levels, from all different socio-economic backgrounds, is definitely correlated with student achievement,” said Keith Catone, principal associate with AISR. “Any effort to empower and engage parents to be more connected to their children’s schooling has the potential to improve student outcomes.”

Heinz Endowment’s Brown said the public schools are already moving in the right direction in terms of increasing community engagement. She cited a parent leadership conference held in the district recently. But, the overall goal is to build stronger ties.

“We hope that in addition to building the community presence of parents that this also provides an opportunity for the district and parents to interface better,” said Brown.

The organizations involved in the organizing training with AISR are Action United, The Hill District Consensus Group, Lawrenceville United, the Local Task Force for the Right to Education, One Pittsburgh, Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership Center, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, Project Destiny and the Ready Freddy program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development.