idea of helping to develop more effective, more cohesive families so that we can help develop a greater community. There’s something special going on in Prince George’s County right now and really great things can occur out of events like this.”
The PGCPS Family Institute — designed to strengthen the capacity of families and other learning guardians through learning sessions in support of the academic achievement of students — will be a new way for the district to approach providing a network of support for our community. All learning sessions will be free and offer a wide variety of workshop topics that not only address how parents/families can support their students in school, but also how they can enrich their own lives, according to the Department of Family and Community Engagement website.
“The purpose is to provide opportunities that we call ‘capacity building for parents’ to help them understand ways they can better support their children, ways they can work better with the school system — working with teachers, working with the administration and really navigating the system so that children can be successful,” Jackson said. “We’ll also be providing workshops for teachers and administrators because the worst thing that can happen is to fire up parents, engage them, get them ready to work and they get to the school and hit a brick wall. We wants schools to be welcoming and engaging for parents and families as well.”
With the aim of increasing participation and intentional collaboration between families, schools and the broader PGCPS community, the department collaborates with a diverse constituency to both allocate resources and identify innovative, research-based strategies for families. The launch of the Family Institute today, as well as the ongoing learning experiences being offered throughout the year at a variety of school and community locations, reflects the systemic commitment and support of the district’s overall goal, according to an information booklet.
“We’re expecting for our students and families in the county to really feel energized about their engagement with the school district and how they can help become their students’ best teacher,” Rhodes said. “Oftentimes, the assumption is that the school system has all the answers but we know we don’t and we need to engage our families and communities to really move the system forward.”
Although there are a lot of things happening outside of the school district, Rhodes said parents and students are committed now more than ever to education, academic achievement and PGCPS’ motto of being “great by choice.”
“There’s pitfalls and potholes but our goal at the end of the day is to see every single student in this county walk across that stage with a high school diploma and go on to college [and have] a career,” he said.
For parents like 54-year-old Arrica Tillman of Clinton who attended the conference with two of her teenage grandchildren, she was happy to see so many families participating in the learning sessions. A lot of children, especially girls, need to be empowered, know their self and be individualized in a generation obsessed with technology and the Internet, she said.
“There’s a real world out here and once they graduate, you’re out there like it’s the wilderness and you have to be able to survive,” said Tillman, whose child attends Oxon Hill High School. “The main thing is that kids have got to keep persevering. They have to learn that it’s OK to fail but you’ve got to be able to get back up. Mommy and daddy can’t put a band-aid on everything. You have to go out there and try things for yourself.”
When it comes to creating opportunities and encouraging dialogue centered on student achievement, the inaugural conference serves as the catalyst for the school system’s coordinated efforts in not only empowering students, but also providing necessary resources for them and their families, Maxwell said.
“As a large school district, we really have to have a parent component. We have not had a strong enough one for some years now and so we’re glad to be getting back up to speed,” Maxwell said. “There certainly are things that we need to continue to work on and to improve and we need to make sure that our employees understand their responsibilities and how they should be disciplining children, following the law and the rules around report- ing and around the culture of our school organization—this is a part of that work. Helping parents to understand how to navigate our system and how to support their children is really, really important. This is a positive and great thing for our school system.”
Eubanks said the topics discussed in the learning sessions reflect the issues that are critical to families, students and staff.
“The Family Institute is just bringing it to another level of engagement where not only are we kind of working to keep parents informed about what’s going on in our schools and help them to help us with their children, but to learn together about how we can better serve these children,” said Eubanks.
Aetna Government and Labor Division Regional Vice President/Market Head of Sales and Services Monty Robinson said Aetna salutes the work of PGCPS and the Family Institute for their success in enhancing the lives and the advancement of education within their community.
“The No. 1 determining factor of a student’s performance in ed- ucation is family involvement,” Harper said in an interview. “Let’s all come together and figure out different ways that we can work together and uplift our kids. It’s a very simple idea but it’s very profound and powerful. To see this kind of turnout is awe-inspiring and it just shows there’s a desire, a need and there’s going to be winning results from this type of activity.”
Having started the Fatherhood Forum initiative in an effort to engage and recruit more fathers to be advocates for their children, Board of Education Member Curtis Valentine said it is that type of innovative and collaborative effort that leads to student achievement.
“About 70 percent of our students come from female-headed households,” Valentine said. “We’re trying to make a system-wide change. As we try to engage fathers by having Hill [Harper] here and these sessions to really empower and educate them, we want to ensure that other fathers, who are sort of on the fence, seek positive examples of how fathers can engage in their children’s lives.”
Harper gets up close and personal with a crowd of several hundred parents, families, elected officials, county leaders and school system staff inside the school’s auditorium.