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When it comes to student success, family engagement is at the top of the list for three Richland Two teachers who are among the first cohort of the Carolina Family Engagement Center’s (CFEC’s) Teacher-Partners initiative. The two-year professional development initiative used Getting To Outcomes®, an evidence-based strategic planning tool to develop, implement, and evaluate family engagement goals and activities for their classrooms in collaboration with their CFEC Regional Family Engagement Liaison. 

The Richland Two teachers in the 2019-2021 CFEC Teacher-Partner cohort, include Maria (Rocio) Herron and Caitlyn Spires-McDonald of Jackson Creek Elementary School; and Alexis Williamson, Richland Northeast High School. They believe a vital component to student success is family engagement.  

"To build a stronger school community we must first connect and be present in the lives of our students and their families beyond school activities and assignments. Once trust is established within the school family, we can empower parents to actively participate in their children’s education and lead them to success," said Herron. 

“I felt this was important to do because a child's family is their first and most important teacher. Creating genuine and meaningful relationships with my students' families opens up new possibilities for student engagement,” said Spires-McDonald. 

Williamson says she values being an advocate for parents and students just as much as teaching them how to advocate for themselves. “As a special educator, I want my parents/families to be as engaged as possible. Whether it is dealing with IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meetings or just calling to check-in, I want them to feel like their voices are being heard. To fully encourage student achievement, there are three entities that must work together: the students, the school, and most of all the families,” said Williamson.

According to CFEF Project Director Karen Utter, several decades of research has shown that family engagement in schools contributes to positive student outcomes such as increased achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, and improved school climate. Utter says this holds true regardless of parents’ socioeconomic, educational, or racial/ethnic backgrounds.  The CFEC Teacher-Partners program is housed in the SC School Improvement Council at the University of South Carolina’s College of Education and funded through a US Department of Education grant.