YouthPower365 introduces new team to grow family-school relationships
By increasing families’ engagement with schools, nonprofit hopes to help close achievement gaps
In October, YouthPower365 launched a new program to help grow family-school relationships.
Called the family engagement team, the program was created to not only provide knowledge, resources and assistance to local families, but to increase families’ engagement with their students’ education.
“Research shows that family engagement of their child or their student’s learning is a real predictor of the success for that child and sometimes even engagement can be more of a predictor of student success than even socioeconomic status,” said Amy Chato, YouthPower365’s senior manager of early learning. Chato also oversees the family engagement team.
“We also know that families and caregivers sometimes need more support to fill that role and to make connections in our community because of language barriers, or other sorts of barriers. So we would like to be one of the organizations that provides these supports for families so they can become more engaged in their child’s learning.”
The program has been in the works for some time, Chato said, but it really came to fruition in the fall when YouthPower365 — part of the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation — was able to hire more staff, including two family ambassadors to help share resources and to support families with their student’s education and development. Along with current YouthPower365 staff, the family ambassadors are hoping to partner to build effective family, school and community relationships and enhance student achievement.
“This is the team that brings the whole continuum together and that idea of supporting youth and families every step of the way from early childhood all the way up through college and career,” Chato said.
While the YouthPower365 family engagement team is still in its infancy, since October it has helped numerous families with a variety of supports and needs.
Easing transitions, closing achievement gaps
One of the main areas it found families seeking support for was with transitions: primarily students transitioning from elementary to middle school and middle to high school.
“We really try to help families make those transitions smoother,” Chato said.
Many families, she added, are looking for support because as students get older and become more independent, parents often become less engaged with the every day aspects of students’ education and therefore become less connected with their students’ educators and the schools’ education teams.
For these families, the family engagement team offers help in connecting with the schools and educators and making sure they have the information they need to feel more confident in their students’ transition.
The team has also been helping families meet basic needs, which is important for both building community and improving student achievement.
“People might be surprised that while a lot of things have really wound down with COVID and the immediate threats of COVID, there’s still a lot of families and students that are just trying to get back on their feet,” Chato said, adding that many families need help accessing basic needs for rental assistance, food, clothing and even mental health supports. “These (needs) are also affecting students too. It just seems like we still have some healing to do in the community.”
In these cases, the YouthPower365 team has worked to connect families with other community partners and nonprofits to help meet these needs.
“It’s really a big community effort,” Chato said.
Additionally, the team has helped families with certain technological needs such as the education database systems or other district portals.
Whatever the need — be it technology, basic needs, transitions or otherwise — the family engagement team works one-on-one with the families to find the applicable solutions and resources.
“The people working directly with families are bilingual and bicultural and also have lived experience, have children, have raised children in the valley and have lived experience and are very understanding of the many barriers that you can sometimes come across as a parent,” Chato said. “Hopefully that creates a lot of empathy and trust and furthers the accessibility for the families so they can be engaged with their kiddos learning and development.”
Accessibility and equity is another element of the team, Chato later said, adding that the hope is that the added supports from the group will help chose certain achievement gaps.
“Fostering more family engagement allows for more accessibility for families and for students in hopes that we can help to close some achievement gaps and make sure that we’re not leaving any student or family behind in the path to success,” she said. “We’re also providing options for families too and really trying to focus on individual needs as well as just creating a community that cares about our youth and our families.”
Ahead of summer, the team has had over 700 calls with local families to ensure that their families’ needs can be met while school is out of session.
“A really big need and concern for most working families is having their children engaged in something during the summer when they’re not going to school everyday,” Chato said, adding that their needs include finding opportunities for students to continue learning and socializing — something that has become more vital after the pandemic stifled both. “I think a lot of families are looking for robust summer programs and things for their children to do and be outside and be active and get back to the healthy way things were before the pandemic.”
Initially, YouthPower365 started connecting and helping families that were already involved with its youth programming. However, moving forward, the hope is that any and all families that need support will take advantage of the program.
Families interested in learning more about YouthPower365’s family engagement team can call the organization’s main phone number at 970-748-5985, which is staffed with bilingual employees.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.