April 25, 2023

Learn Fresno Unified School District’s Strategies for Engaging Multigenerational Families

Fresno Unified School District Parent University Team

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Multigenerational households are on the rise throughout the United States, meaning more children are sharing a home with family elders and other adults from at least two generations. For many families, multigenerational living is a cultural value. Across the U.S. approximately 25% of Asian, Hispanic and Latino, and Black and African American families live in a multigenerational home (compared to 13% of white households).

Multigenerational living can lead to more consistent caregiving for younger and older family members and the ability to work or attend school, as well as positive intergenerational relationships and support. It also comes with unique family-school engagement needs and opportunities.

Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) is in the top five school districts serving the highest number of students living in multigenerational households in California. The district responds to the needs and values of multigenerational families with their acclaimed family and community engagement program, Parent University. Since 2018, FUSD has worked with Healthier Generation program managers to support their whole child health goals. We connected with executive director Maiyer Vang to learn about Parent University’s model for maximizing community participation in support of whole child, whole family health.

Strategies for Engaging Fresno’s Families

Ms. Vang shared Parent University’s history, strategies for success, and goals for the future. “Parent University supports broadening the district’s new family goal to increase inclusive opportunities for families to engage in their students’ education. The priority objective is to increase families' sense of connectedness, and the key result is to increase family participation in engagement opportunities,” said Ms. Vang. So far there’s no doubt they are succeeding. In the 2022-2023 school year, Parent University has served nearly 14,300 families, which is close to three times the previous year’s engagement.

Maribel Gomez, Primary Language Instruction Specialist, leading activities at a recent wellness fair.

What explains Parent University’s amazing growth? District leaders, including Ms. Vang and her team, activate best practices that make their programs welcoming to all families. Accessibility and variety are top priorities – they host regional family engagement and community events, offer family learning opportunities, and make sure there are multiple ways to participate virtually and in person. They also ensure that all resources and communications are available in Spanish, Hmong, English, and other languages spoken by students and staff.

What’s more, Parent University is led by a team of family engagement and language specialists who share the cultural backgrounds of their students and school families in a district where 69% of students identify as Hispanic and Latino, 11% as Asian, and 8% as Black and African American. You’ll also see Ms. Vang and the team out and about and at school sites celebrating their community.

Fourteen Years of Family Input and Innovation

Since its first pilot program in 2009, Parent University has created countless opportunities for family members of all ages to become lifelong learners and has played a central role in student success and improving graduation rates. From the beginning, they identified that to help students succeed, the district needed to “expand Parent University training for all families in our community and ensure that programs are culturally appropriate and available at times when families can participate.”

During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, superintendent Robert G. Nelson and other district leaders implemented new board-adopted goals, including a new family goal. Parent University redesigned a new strategic plan this school year to better serve families and the community in a rapidly changing education environment. Their first step, Ms. Vang said, was to gather input from the students, parents, family members, and school staff. That input has formed what Parent University is today.

Responding to Community Feedback with Tools for Student Success

A "Gratitude Wall" created to thank teachers and staff at a Family Leadership Academies event in February. Families wrote messages in Hmong (above), Spanish, and English.

With the feedback they have gathered, Parent University continues to go above and beyond to further their goal to “empower, engage, and connect families to support student achievement.” This year, the team has implemented new initiatives so that families, parents, caregivers, and community members can model curiosity and leadership for young people in their lives. These include new key elements: Family Learning, Family Leadership, Family Engagement, Family Community Partnership, and Family Data. To implement these initiatives, they have invested in new curriculum, contracts with community partners, new family learning technology, marketing and recruiting materials, new family toolkits, a variety of services and community events, and professional learning for staff, including cultural proficiency.

How are these programs doing in their first year? Check out these responses from recent surveys:

1,325 families provided feedback for the Family Engagement Hours.

  • 77% strongly agree or agree when asked, “I will use the information today to support my student’s education.”
  • 76% strongly agree or agree when asked, “I was encouraged to engage in the conversation/learning.”
  • 77% strongly agree or agree when asked, “I trust my input will be used to support student outcomes.”

215 families provided feedback for the Family Leadership Academies.

  • 86% strongly agree or agree when asked, “I will use the information today to support my student’s education.”
  • 87% strongly agree or agree when asked, “I was encouraged to engage in the conversation/learning.”
  • 87% strongly agree or agree when asked, “I trust my input will be used to support student outcomes.”

What’s Next for Parent University?

The FUSD community has exciting events to look forward to all year. Between spring break and the end of the 2022-2023 school year, Parent University is hosting six regional family engagement events in addition to their weekly lineup of in-person/online family engagement hours offered in Hmong, English, and Spanish. Ms. Vang and the team are getting ready to prepare their students and families for a healthy, happy summer with wellness fairs, cultural celebrations, family literacy night, and more. We’re cheering for you, Fresno!

Is your school ready to achieve your family and community engagement goals? Stay inspired by new ideas and learn from success stories, tips, and evidenced-based trainings for school staff from Kohl’s Healthy at Home and Kohl's Healthy at Home en español.