Table of Contents
1. Definition of a Title I School
2. Engaging parents at a Title I School
3. Key Issues
○ Economic Challenges.
○ Language Barriers.
○ Potential information filtering by kids.
○ Discomfort at Schools.
4. Strategies that work
Engaging Parents in a Title I Schools
Definition of a Title I School:
According to Wikipedia, Title I ("Title One") of the Act is a set of programs set up by the
United States Department of Education to distribute funding to schools and school districts
with a high percentage of students from low-income families.
To qualify as a Title I school, a school typically has around 40% or more of its students that
come from families that qualify under the United States Census's definitions as low-income,
according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Engaging Parents and specific challenges at a Title I School:
1. Key issues:
a. Economic Challenges: At Title I schools, If there are two parents, they usually
both work, and often, have 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. They have little or
no time for education as they are focused primarily on survival. Schools
planning an outreach program at a Title I school must keep this in mind and
devise programs/ideas that can be done within the parents’ limited free time.
b. Language Barriers: Parents at Title I schools are often not native English
speakers. If you have ever tried to learn another language, you know that it is
not easy. Speaking can be intimidating for fear of making a mistake. It can be
hard for foreigners to understand what others say when the vocabulary is
limited and/or people speak too fast to properly mentally process the words.
Therefore, language barriers are a major issue at Title I schools and must not
c. Potential information filtering by kids: Like all kids, it is not unusual to see
information filtering by kids. This is not necessarily an issue just limited to a
Title I school but is worth mentioning.
d. Feeling uncomfortable approaching teachers: Teachers and schools in general
intimidate parents. It brings back memories of our school days when we were
kids and further compounds other issues, like language barriers. Imagine
feeling intimidated by a teacher and not being able to understand what the
e. Feeling unwelcome at a school: Many parents at Title I schools feel
unwelcome at a school. It has to do with economic challenges, feeling that
they aren’t good enough, their English is terrible, or that they will be mocked.
Strategies that work:
None of the above is insurmountable. We put together a panel of educators that work or have
worked with Title I schools. They suggested some strategies that are very effective. We have
compiled ideas by Cheska Lorena, Steve Franklin, and Bridget Johnson. Here are some ideas
To build parent engagement in Title 1 schools, teachers and administration should focus on
looking at ways that will connect and strengthen the relationships between parents, the
children, and the school community. One way to do that is by involving parents in “hands-
joined” classroom and school-wide projects that use elements of art, nature, and creative
writing. With these programs, teachers and administration openly invite parents to help shape
their child’s learning through the sharing of experiences, language, and culture. Examples
● Family Writing Project: One of my many mentors from student-teaching has created
and organized the Family Writing Project, which is “a unique collaboration between
parents, children, teachers and other faculty members working together to write and
publish work that is important to them and relevant to their lives”. The families and
schoolwork together to produce an annual bilingual anthology displaying the artwork
and written words of the whole community.
● Family Artwork: Schools can also create a Family Mural program. An after-school
program made up of students, parent volunteers, and teachers can lead and facilitate
the program. In this program, families come together to paint wall murals, design tiles
and write short descriptions of their artwork during Open House and Family Nights.
● Family Community Service: At the beginning and at various intervals of the year,
families can come together at the school’s urban garden to help plant new flower
beds, plan vegetable gardens, and create a small outdoor classroom area for
observations, nature journaling, and interdisciplinary projects throughout the year.
Urban school gardens can help reduce litter, vandalism, and create a more family-
friendly atmosphere. Produce can be used by the school cafeteria and extra harvests
can be given away at school “farmer markets” to local neighbors, soup kitchens, etc.
Students, parent volunteers, and teachers can rotate schedules and responsibilities for
maintaining the school gardens year-round.
● Bilingual Correspondence: Make sure correspondence with parents/guardians is
bilingual if necessary, and keep in mind that may students in socioeconomically
disadvantaged school don’t live with their parents—this is why I keep mentioning
“guardians” as well as parents.
● Student Incentives: Give students incentives to bring parents/guardians to back-to
school and parent conference nights. I tell my students that a major part of their
grade is effort, and by bringing parents/guardians to the events, it shows effort on
their part. I assure my students that regardless of their grade and behavior, I will point
out good qualities as well, and that I won’t only be critical, but will be honest.
● Parent Center: Utilize the parent center at your school if it has one. Many Title I
schools have such places, and my experience is that it is a treasure. At schools where
many parents don’t speak English, the parent center most likely offers translation
services (they may even make phone calls for you!) that is needed to be able to
effectively communicate with the parents. You will find that by befriending the
staffers and parents who volunteer there, the parent center will be a very powerful
● Call student’s homes: This is obvious. If I can’t do it myself because a translator is
needed, one can be found. I might have my TAs make the call, or another adult at the
school, or use the parent center. If the call home is to speak about a specific incident,
I invite parents to visit the to class. I make sure to offer praise as well as critique.
● Home visits: For most teachers, a multitude of excuses can be made, some very valid,
as to the impracticality of this tool. But make no mistake about it: this is a most
powerful tool. I do it as needed. The surprise of my showing up at students’ doors is in
and of itself draws parents in–obviously you must care a lot to make the effort and
take the time to go to a child’s home. The discussion that follows strengthens it even
more. A colleague of mine schedules visits with all of her students’ families once in
the semester. She has a blank calendar she sends home and lets parents choose their
top three days and times for a visit. She does weekends, too. From my experiences, I
can say with confidence that you will be amazed what home visits can do for you.
● Engaging Assignments: Give assignments that make part of the project/assignment
require parent/guardian participation. For example, I might have as part of a project
an “interview an adult family member” section. In my history classes, if we are
studying medieval Europe, there might be an assignment where students must ask
parents/guardians their opinion about the topic. This tends to garner parent/guardian
interest in what’s going on in your class.
● Bilingual Book Club – 5 years ago we started a book club for Spanish speaking families.
With grant money, we purchased children’s book in English and Spanish. The students
who chose to participate in the club took home a Spanish copy and an English copy of
the book of the month. The families were encouraged to read the book together
(either Spanish or English). We then gathered once a month to discuss the text.
Because the families were able to read the text in Spanish, they could help their
children comprehend the story better. It also served as a teaching tool for many
families who wanted to learn English. The parents were reading it in Spanish and then
re-reading it in English for practice.
For our monthly meetings we completed engaging activities that were related
to the text. Sometimes we met in the computer lab and other times we met in a
classroom or at the library. I can’t speak Spanish so the students would translate for
me. It was an awesome way to bring Spanish speaking families into the school building
in a non-threatening way.
Cheska Lorena is a twenty-something New Jersey native, a certified HS science teacher, and
an ed-tech enthusiast. She student-taught in an urban Title 1 middle school in Las Vegas,
Nevada, and considers it as one of her best life-changing experiences as a burgeoning
educator. She now currently lives in upstate New York, where she is enjoying the seasons,
connecting with other educators online, and searching for her dream school.
Blog - Teaching Miss Cheska: http://mscheska.wordpress.com/
Twitter - @MissCheska: http://twitter.com/MissCheska
Steve Franklin is a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He is an eleven year
veteran and has won District and County Teacher of the Year awards. He was also a recipient
of the prestigious Bank of America Community Hero award. Before teaching, he spent five years
at Learning Forum, which runs summer camps designed to increase student academic
potential. It is a world-wide program.
Bridget Johnson is an Assistant Principal and proud mom of two. She is passionate about
teaching and learning. She loves to work with teachers.
Christi Grab is Director, Editorial at www.parentella.com. She is also the author of The
Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part 1 – San Diego to Australia.
She is currently working on book two of the series.