Bay Area PLAN: Engaging families and communities in children’s futures

Family engagement, especially during the critical early years, can profoundly impact children’s learning and development, setting them on a path to success in school and life. Yet too often, many parents aren’t authentically engaged in the decision-making process for their children, schools and communities.

But in Oakland, California, the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN), is working to change this narrative, ensuring that all families, regardless of their background, can become leaders and advocates for educational equity. PLAN also works to ensure that families, educators, and community leaders are all equal partners and have a shared responsibility and voice in student learning.

“Oakland is a very diverse community, and we understand that true change has to take into account that aspect of Oakland – that we succeed, but we want to succeed together,” said Jairo Güiza, training director for PLAN. 

PLAN’s efforts to develop and implement transformative family engagement programs were among the reasons why the W.K. Kellogg Foundation selected them and 29 other exceptional organizations from more than 1,130 applications for family engagement funding in April 2014. The foundation received more than $500 million in funding requests, the most ever for a single funding opportunity in its 83-year-history. PLAN has been working since 2004 to provide parents with leadership training and engagement opportunities that enable them to become leaders in their children’s education and have been doing so with an understanding that all parents have tremendous strengths to be champions for systemic change in their schools and communities.

“Contrary to the popular narrative that children don’t succeed in school because parents ‘just don’t care,’ we know that families care passionately about their children’s well-being and success and play a critical role in supporting positive outcomes for students,” said Melia Franklin, executive director of PLAN.

PLAN’s work to empower families as partners and leaders is a critical example of what WKKF sees as “transformative family engagement,” especially in helping schools and communities overcome the negative perception of parents as detractors from their child’s educational goals. They truly create a shared environment for student success between families, schools and communities that goes far beyond traditional definitions of “parent involvement.”

Felicitas Garcia, a parent at Esperanza Elementary, said that PLAN’s six-session Parents Ready for School program – a dynamic, hands-on parent leadership program that increases the skills, knowledge and confidence of parents to successfully advocate on behalf of their children with the school system – gives parents helpful tools.

“I think that parents, all parents, want our children to be successful at school and also in their lives,” Felicitas said in Spanish during her May 2014 graduation from the program, which is offered in multiple languages in partnership with early childhood programs and elementary schools. “Sometimes we do not have the appropriate tools, the information needed, to help [our children] become responsible to make their own life.”

More than 350 parents of young children, predominately from low-income and immigrant families, have benefited from PLAN’s Parents Ready for School program, developing their own leadership skills, gaining the confidence to advocate for their children and learning how to bring about change.

Ángeles Rodríguez, another parent at Esperanza who graduated from the program in May, appreciated the opportunity to meet with other likeminded parents looking for a better future for their children.

“You get better results working as a team,” said Ángeles in Spanish. “All of us have a voice, and our opinions are important, and we make a difference as parents.”

PLAN’s work in schools like Esperanza has changed how schools and districts view and engage with parents. During the Parents Ready for School graduation ceremony, more than a dozen mothers interviewed Principal Wesley Jacques and asked him questions – to which he responded in Spanish – around issues like school safety, equity and attendance. Parents used the opportunity to practice advocating in front of other school officials in the future. Wesley said, “This work with PLAN and the Kellogg Foundation has allowed us to engage with the parents in a way that wasn’t happening before.

“In communities like this, parents may not have the cultural or social capital to engage with the school in the ways that they would like to,” said Wesley. “We also make that harder as schools, sometimes, by making things so complex and not finding ways to get to the heart of the matter with parents. It’s really on us to think of how are we engaging with parents.”

That connection, and understanding that family engagement must be a shared responsibility of families, schools and communities, is already making changes in Oakland. Through PLAN’s leadership development work at Esperanza Elementary, PLAN was able to form a parent organization, Padres Unidos de Esperanza. In the group’s first convening of parent representatives, they established committees to focus on issues including traffic safety, attendance and cultural programs. Identifying traffic safety as a primary concern, Padres Unidos de Esperanza and PLAN helped organize two community meetings to hear additional parent concerns and came up with community-based solutions, which have since been approved by the Oakland City Council.

WKKF’s three-year investment helps PLAN expand capacity building and leadership support to parents and staff at four East Oakland elementary schools, including Esperanza. PLAN is also creating a new program, built on its successful Parents Ready for Schools program – Leaders for Engaged and Active Parents, or LEAP – which will “support parent leaders to engage their peers in ways that are culturally responsive and build on families’ existing strengths and expertise.”

Monica Scott Green, a training associate with PLAN designing the curriculum for the new LEAP program, said that PLAN’s efforts help parents learn how to advocate for their children, for their families and for their school. Monica was a parent leader in PLAN for three years before being hired to join its staff.

“I believe that the youth of Oakland have great genius that’s untapped,” said Monica. “If parents, teachers, administrators and districts – if we all come together for children’s success like PLAN’s vision – we’ll have an awesome school district.”

Grant Details

Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network

Oakland, California, United States

Strengthen early learning outcomes of vulnerable East Oakland, Calif., elementary school children by developing leadership and building capacity of families, schools and communities to work together to promote success

Thriving Children
March 1, 2014 - April 30, 2017
$500,000

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“Empleen el dinero del modo en que crean conveniente, siempre y cuando promueva la salud, la felicidad y el bienestar de los niños.” - Will Keith Kellogg

“Sèvi ak lajan an jan w vle depi se sante timoun, byennèt timoun ak kè kontan pou timoun w ap ankouraje.” - W.K. Kelòg