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Angie Walsh, a para educator at Martin, poses with the instructional signs that she posted at her school’s entrance so visitors know how to get admitted.

District Prepping For Family Engagement Analysis

As a para educator at Martin Elementary School, Angie Walsh has a variety of responsibilities.

Among them making sure visitors to the school feel welcome when they arrive, and that starts before they even enter the building.

“The signs are important,” said Angie, referring to the laminated instructions hanging next to the “doorbell” that visitors must ring before being buzzed into the building.

Signage­­ and a lot more will be scrutinized in coming weeks because Manchester schools have commissioned a “Family Engagement Analysis,” which will be done by the Center for Active Family Engagement.

“We work in partnership with our parents, with everyone in the community,” said Superintendent Matt Geary. “And we believe this analysis will lead to improvements that will not cost very much, in some cases nothing, but will make it easier for families and others to participate in the important work that we should be doing together.”

He said it is critical “that every family and community member will feel welcome when they enter every school and the board offices.”

That’s essentially the purpose of the assessment, according to CAFE. As they describe it, their goal is “to assess how welcome families are in your school and how welcome families are in the learning process.”

The analysis is multi­faceted and will include a physical walk through of each building, a review of printed materials that each school gives to families, a review of each school’s website, and surveys of parents and staff. The analysis even includes “shopper calls,” which is when someone from the CAFE staff calls a school posing as a someone brand new to town (sometimes speaking in Spanish) who is seeking information about the school. 

Every school will eventually get a report that includes suggestions on how to improve in four areas:

● The Welcoming review helps you know if your parents feel they belong on the school

campus and in the learning process

● The Communication review assesses how you communicate with families.

● The Information review evaluates what you communicate to families.

● The Participation review helps you know if your family participation programs invite involvement in learning, value parents as key resources, and engage the entire school community.

In anticipation of the analysis, schools are reviewing their welcome signage, website and more.

All of the district’s schools have locked entrances a security strategy that has become ubiquitous throughout the country following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012.

Schools still must find a way to be safe and secure, but also inviting and welcoming to visitors.

The directions that Angie posted at Martin pretty simple:

● Please ring the bell.

● Give the reason you are here with your name (and your student’s name).

● You will hear a buzzing sound. Pull the door that is marked.

● Please go to the office to check in.

At Martin, though, when someone is “buzzed in” the left­hand door gets briefly unlocked.

“But most people are right­handed,” said Angie, who taped a “finger­pointing” reminder so visitors know to grab the left­hand door when they hear the click.

Other schools are reviewing their signage and making adjustments as needed.

Verplanck took an additional step plast week by updating its instructions for visitors, including a Spanish translation as well as the district mission statement so that people will have “something to read” as they wait to be buzzed in.

Said Geary: “When it comes to making people feel welcome, some things that might seem little can make a big difference.”

Manchester Public Schools 45 North School St, Manchester, CT 06042

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