The pandemic has reshaped parenting. While online and hybrid engagement certainly has posed challenges to families, there are more positive outcomes than we imagined, namely the paradigm shift of“parents as partners”. There has been an attitude shift towards engaging families in a child’s education, a shift from believing that parents have little to do with their child’s academic success, to now finding School/CBO and parent partnerships to be essential to student success.
Many parents and caregivers are working side by side with their children from home, they are now more exposed to the entirety of the school day, and in the case of younger children, often supporting instruction directly. This high level of engagement also carried over when it came to supplemental and extracurricular offerings; as well as in parent and caregiver interest in learning new techniques to engage their children in learning.
Over the course of the past year, we learned that online engagement works for parents and caregivers; online events have afforded them the flexibility to attend from anywhere with no commute time and little preparation, and allows them to easily fit events into their schedule. Ramapo for Children workshops saw a 200-400% increase in attendance during the pandemic. We’ve also seen that parents are attending at hours that are often challenging for families and traditionally not well-attended, such as early mornings and evenings. We have learned the value of both virtual networking and self-paced learning. We have held webinars, workshops and produced a range of asynchronous content.
Engaging With a Wide Variety of Needs
Depending on their work schedules, some parents were able to work from home and look after their children, but parents that were essential workers often had to arrange childcare with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even older children. Community based organizations and early childhood centers also stepped into new roles to support families. In Ramapo’s virtual offerings, we made sure that we were receptive to pandemic-related family stress by centering self-care for the caregiver. We were able to meet challenges of the moment by designing new program content to create structure and routines at home, developing calming and energizing strategies for the whole family, and facilitate student skill building. We also provided opportunities for families and caregivers to learn about trauma and resilience and modify their existing strategies by shaping content around coping with conflict while at home. A major component of Ramapo for Children’s work focuses on raising children with disabilities and learning differences. Without in-person interventions, our goal was to continue to support these families with adaptable and concrete tools such as ways to meet sensory needs at home.
Expanding the Reach of Our Online Offerings
We pared down our breadth of workshops during the pandemic, but made the remaining ones more accessible by offering them in historically under-supported languages. Select workshops were offered in Mandarin Chinese, Haitain Creole, and Spanish, and all of them had healthy attendance. Their attendance shows that there is a demand for non-English workshops, and that we’re reaching parents and caregivers who otherwise may not have attended due to a language barrier. We look forward to offering more workshops in different languages so that we can continue to create strong partnerships with all parents and are proud of community based partnerships, such as that with the Division of Multilingual Education at the New York City Department of Education, that increase our community access.
Working with Parents of Younger Children
We worked closely with the Department of Early Childhood Education to offer customized supports for Special Ed coordinators. We also offered support for early childhood educators in daycares around the city that mirrored the content offered to families.
Parenting during the pandemic was uncharted territory, so a lot of our trainers, many of whom are parents themselves, decided to create workshops that drew on their own experiences. This practice proved to be extremely helpful as attendees found that trainers addressed challenges similar to their own, such as planning for downtime, completing chores or practicing life skills at home. More importantly, we learned the benefit from connecting with other parents and decreasing family stress.
Parent Engagement Once the Pandemic is Over
We hope that we can sustain this level of parent engagement by continuing communication and events online, and making our content accessible to historically under-supported groups. As we return to a new normal, we hope to sustain a sense of partnering with parents, to continue to nurture the home/school connection in support of student learning, and to decrease the barriers between families.
If you are interested in learning more about bringing virtual parent and caregiver engagement and support to your community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.