It takes a village: Engaging communities to support student success
Montmagny is a community in Québec that faces high unemployment, lower than average personal income, a shrinking population, and low high school graduation rates. Indicators of academic achievement also raise concerns. In 2009, only 50% of grade four students received a passing grade in French; and in 2012, 25% of Kindergarten-aged students were vulnerable in at least one domain of the Early Development Instrument (EDI domains include physical health and well-being; social knowledge and competence; emotional health/maturity; language and cognitive development; and general knowledge and communication skills).
In 2011, the Centre de transfert pour la réussite éducative du Québec (CTREQ), a Québec-based education research organization, together with the ABC des Hauts-Plateaux, a regional literacy organization, launched a pilot program called ÉcoRéussite. The ÉcoRéussite program (a play on the terms “ecosystem” and “success”) brought together over 20 community organizations to envelop students with support from their parents, communities, and schools.
The goal? Improve literacy skills in young children
Phase One of the ÉcoRéussite program aimed to improve literacy skills of children ages 0-8 from 2011 to 2016. The initiative not only improved literacy among children, but changed the way that the Montmagny community thought about reading.
The project identified five “systems” that together can determine a student’s chance of success in literacy and school:
- The individual
- The child’s family
- The child’s class
- The child’s school
- The child’s community
Community organizations and schools came together to determine priority issues, protective factors, and objectives for each system. Based on that information, interventions were put in place. For example, in order to target the protective factors that families can offer their children, ABC des Hauts-Plateux led parent-child workshops, interactive storytelling sessions, and shared reading and writing activities in family homes. Together, these interventions were pushing towards the same objective – improved literacy among children 0-8 years old – with evaluation of outcomes embedded in the process.
The pilot program succeeded through its ecosystem approach to literacy. EdCan reports that by 2016, French-language achievement had risen to 98%.
Phase two will include youth up to 24 years old, and will continue until 2020.
The ÉcoRéussite program is an example of an evidence-based approach to community-family-school partnerships that support students from all angles. The success seen here can be compared to the success of other programs for wrap-around services aimed at improving student well-being or overall student success (e.g. Grad Track within the Hamilton Community Foundation’s ABACUS program).
Insights from the project
The success of the program in Montmagny provided some key insights:
- Involve parents: Parents, schools, and community organizations all want the same thing – for their children to succeed. This report suggests that when engaging parents, create parent-friendly spaces where there is no judgment, and organizations are not “telling parents how to parent”. Continual communication of clear results also helps create trust and buy-in for community initiatives.
- “Teachers are the lynchpin”: The way that the “systems” fit together shows how important classroom teachers are in students’ lives. The ÉcoRéussite program engaged a core group of educators, school psychologists, and other teaching staff to facilitate engagement and communication with teachers. The report credits teachers for their openness in welcoming the community into the classroom.
- Communicate with everyone: The report recommends using a social media and graphic design coordinator to engage community partners and parents with useful and timely communication. Keeping everyone informed about events and progress sustains their commitment and motivation.Communications must also be accessible – not everyone has a background in education or research.
- Fund what you care about: The coordination of partnerships is neither simple nor free. For the ÉcoRéussite program to be successful, consistent funding was and is needed. The report suggests that funding is easier to access and maintain when success stories are shared far and wide – through social media, traditional media, conferences, and other organizations doing similar work.
Look for new statistics on school-community relations in the 2018 Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, coming June 25th!
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