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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.

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