Spotlight: How Storefront Academy Charter Schools is Connecting with Families

Storefront Academy Charter Schools, led by Interim Executive Director Alison Curry and with elementary campuses (Grades K-5) in the Bronx and Harlem, focuses on “providing children of varied academic strengths a quality education option that prepares them academically, socially and emotionally to become critical thinkers, high achieving students, and well-rounded individuals.” To achieve this, the education corporation strives to build strong relationships with families and caregivers across all grades and campuses. This week, Curry, Principal Carol Singletary, Assistant Principal Yoselyn Fernandez, Director of Human Resources Marie Lucas, and Parent Coordinator Madeley Sanchez join us to share Storefront’s strategy for family engagement, the introduction of virtual workshops, how they are using data to improve the academic program and student experience, and whether they believe stronger family engagement drives better student outcomes. The responses have been edited for clarity.

Storefront achieved a 98% overall satisfaction rate among respondents to its 2021-22 annual family survey. What is the secret to your success in generating that type of enthusiasm for your school among your parent and caregiver community?

A photo of Interim Executive Director Alison Curry.Storefront is a school, a community, and a culture. Our families walk to school, as do staff. Many of our families immigrated to this country, as have many of our staff. Many of our families are learning English as a second language, as have many of our staff. Educating and safeguarding our children is paramount. As educators and parents, we share this priority with parents.

Children have to learn to learn. We know this. And we work with parents towards our common goal – the academic, emotional, and social development of their children, our students.

The pandemic and social media do not help us educate children, but with a concerted effort, between Storefront staff and parents, we are problem solving. We help families with all the issues around education which include attitude, attendance, focus and motivation. We share a commitment to treat every child as if they are our own.

-Alison Curry, Interim ED

How are you measuring family support beyond the annual family surveys?

In addition to the annual family surveys, we measure family support by participation in school activities including, Curriculum Night, back to school celebrations, awards ceremonies, student presentations, Literacy and Math workshops, NWEA MAP and New York State test workshops, focus groups, field trips, and parent-teacher conferences.

-Carol Singletary, Principal

In recent focus groups, families expressed support for Storefront’s parent workshops and virtual cafes. What led you to introduce them and how have you worked to integrate them into your overall approach?

A photo of principal Carol Singletary with two children.Our parent workshops started as an outreach initiative for our growing MLL/ELL and SEL programming. Parents expressed an interest in learning English which led us to host English Language Classes. To help families understand our focus on Social Emotional Learning, our Counseling Team presented workshops on Growth Mindset and our Student Support services.  As parents express other needs and interests, we consider how we can best address them. At the start of remote learning, teachers stepped up to provide “Tech Squad” sessions (teaching parents how to navigate Class Dojo, Google Classroom and other learning platforms). Now that we are back in school 100 percent in person, we also resumed in person workshops that allow parents to meet with teachers and staff and learn strategies to use at home with their children. An example: We hosted a sight words interactive workshop at dismissal for early elementary families, which we then repeated on Zoom that same evening. Informal parent surveys continue to guide the topics of our virtual cafes and workshops. We will continue to host virtual parent workshops as well to reach a larger parent pool. Strong family engagement communicates to students that school is a priority.

-Carol Singletary, Principal

Have you found evidence that stronger family engagement drives better student academic outcomes?

A photo of Yoselyn Fernandez, assistant principal. Absolutely! To empower families to support their children we provide workshops in both English and Spanish on foundational reading skills e.g., Phonics, Sight Words, and comprehension questions. Students see their parents are interested in what happens at school and being part of the learning community. When this happens students have a greater sense of belonging and pride which encourages them to put forth their best efforts. At Storefront, we teach students that best efforts and a growth mindset are keys to better academic outcomes.  We also teach them to set individual goals and personal milestones in alignment with our SEL approach and commitment to differentiated instruction.  Families express that they see the positive impact on their children, and it inspires them.

-Yoselyn Fernandez, Assistant Principal

How are you using the information and data gathered from parents and caregivers to improve your academic program, school practices, and student experience?

We have considered suggestions and feedback from current and former parents such as modifying extended day and summer programming as well as arrival and dismissal protocols. In response to parent needs, we have early arrival library time, small group reading, and book clubs. We plan to add math and science clubs next school year. Afterschool and summer programs now provide a balance of both academic and cultural enrichment.

Parents also participated in our curriculum selection process through focus group discussions, Padlet reviews, and surveys. We encourage them to stay connected with us through Platforms such as Parent Square, Class Dojo, and school social media. We put our efforts in answering their questions and concerns – having follow through is key. We want to make sure parents feel valued and heard.

-Yoselyn Fernandez, Assistant Principal

What types of challenges have you faced in your efforts to connect with families and how are you overcoming them?

A photo of HR Director Maria Lucas. sdWe invest in building relationships with our families to ensure we are all working hand in hand to support the students. We divide relationships with students between our teachers, with additional support from our Parent Coordinator, registrar, leadership, and operations team. We have systems, but a vital addition to all record keeping is face to face contact and conversation with families. Pick-up, drop-off, and parent portals help us ensure that families know what’s happening at Storefront, and that we know what’s happening with families.

-Marie Lucas, Director of Human Resources

What advice do you have for schools seeking to build or strengthen their relationships with families?

A photo of Madeley Sanchez, Parent Coordinator.Communicate. We have learned that we cannot over-communicate with families. From posting flyers, to backpacking letters home and Robocalls, we do it all. Some families prefer emails while some prefer phone calls. Some families prefer phone apps. We try to accommodate all forms of communication as much as possible.  All families like to know what is going on. Being in the know also encourages families to take part in the activities happening at the school.

-Madeley Sanchez, Parent Coordinator

Do you want to spotlight and share one of your best practices with peers in the charter community? Email us at [email protected].