An organization for Indiana parents is partnering with schools to use new federal grant money to boost family engagement and improve student outcomes. Five school districts will be selected to receive up to $500,000 over the course of five years.
Dawn McGrath, the executive director of IN*SOURCE, said the organization received funding from the U.S. Department of Education this year to improve family engagement in Indiana schools. IN*SOURCE was one of 12 organizations in the nation to receive the grant.
“The federal government first started giving them in 2018. We’re only in the second or third cohort for these,” McGrath said. “It’s kind of a new adventure.”
McGrath said people tend to view family engagement as contributing to a school by volunteering time or money. However, IN*SOURCE wants to encourage schools to be there for families.
“If we can really flip that around from being families supporting schools to schools supporting families, I think we will see an incredible change in the way our students feel that they can belong and be successful,” McGrath said.
The chosen school districts will develop policies and practices to improve family engagement. McGrath said IN*SOURCE is looking for districts that have a clear need for increased community engagement, have taken steps to improve engagement, and believe the grant can make an impact.
IN*SOURCE is hoping to work with schools from different regions in the state: the north, south, west, east and central portions of the state.
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The school districts that are chosen to partner with IN*SOURCE will use some of the grant money to hire outreach coordinators. The coordinators will collect data, host community events and help implement engagement strategies.
Coordinators will also identify underserved communities and determine how the district can better support them. Additionally, they will help with professional development and participate in advisory committees and regional stakeholder groups.
McGrath said the goal is to get students and families involved in their school’s decision-making process sooner rather than later. She hopes that will result in more transparency and a boost in local support for schools.
“The idea is that school isn’t just something that happens to families, but families are integrally a part of what happens at school,” McGrath said.
She said improving family engagement will help student performance and attendance.
School districts and local education agencies can apply for the grant until Thursday, Dec. 7. The districts that are chosen will be announced on Dec. 15 in the Indiana Department of Education’s weekly newsletter.
If the first round of funding is successful, McGrath said IN*SOURCE plans to award more grants and partner with more schools in the future.
“We’re very hopeful that this will do a lot to support the schools and the families across the state and we can find some principles we can agree upon that are impactful,” she said.