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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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This issue's Promising Practices section highlights how a range of school-, district-, and state-level efforts incorporate the three components of HFRP's family involvement frameworks: Family involvement a) matters across ages but changes over time, b) occurs in many different settings, and c) should be coconstructed by families and professionals. 

Brenda Miller and Ginger Peacock Preston from the Jacksonville Children’s Commission describe how the city of Jacksonville, Florida, is integrating family involvement into a system of care for children and families.

On a Saturday in the fall of 2007, Mayor John Peyton kicked off RALLY Jacksonville!, a comprehensive program directed at increasing the literacy outcomes of young children. Over 7,000 children and their families gathered at the Main Library in downtown Jacksonville to take advantage of health screenings, book giveaways, hay rides, storytelling, and art activities. Young children clamored to meet Pete the Dog, the main character from a 12-book series about Jacksonville written for the Mayor’s Book Club, an early literacy initiative targeted at the city’s 4-year-olds.

The popularity of this event reflects Jacksonville’s community-wide commitment to education and families—and to the critical relationship between them. One out of four people living in Jacksonville is under the age of 18,1 and it’s Jacksonville’s focus on children and families that led the city to be named one of America’s Promise’s 100 Best Communities for Young People in 2005.

Currently, Jacksonville is working to build a system of care for children and families that connects services, supports, and stakeholders. Several key players have helped these efforts. One is Mayor Peyton. Another is the Jacksonville Children’s Commission (JCC), an agency of the city government that provides and coordinates prevention and early intervention services for children from birth to age 18. In the past few years, we at JCC have moved away from funding siloed services to investing in a connected system of care across ages and across the city—an effort that embodies the concept of complementary learning. Promoting family involvement is a critical part of this work.

Evaluating the Impact of the Mayor’s Book Club

Each year, an evaluation of RALLY Jacksonville! surveys parents about the value of the Mayor’s Book Club and its components, and each year, we make changes to the program based on those results. Of the 515 families who responded to the survey in 2006:

  • 83% found the Mayor’s Book Club helpful in teaching their children literacy concepts.
  • 61% reported having more than 75 children’s books in the home.
  • 65% increased the amount of time they spend reading with their children.

At JCC, our family involvement educators have begun to step away from the classroom and move into the community, where they model nurturing behavior and help build families and neighborhoods that provide children with the resources and skills they need to thrive. We organize events such as regional family festivals, offer the services of a family coach in our Family Reception and Resource Areas, and produce the JCC Family Resource Guide and other instructive materials for families.

Many of our efforts are built on a commitment to collaboration with community partners. For example, our new initiative is a community collaboration among families, universities, inclusive social services, out-of-school time programs, and neighborhood organizations. Another new initiative, the Jacksonville Outdoor Initiative—a collaboration among the Mayor’s office, Jacksonville Children’s Commission, Jacksonville Public Library, Jacksonville Parks, and the National Wildlife Federation—is designed to create a bridge between the Mayor’s Book Club and kindergarten.

Thanks to a grant through The Community Foundation to study reflective practice in 2004, we developed a strategic plan that outlined our newly customer-centric focus on community engagement and collaboration. It was then that our philosophy became one of relationship building and partnership with the families and community agencies of Jacksonville.

A core principle of our work is a commitment to using evaluation and data. One way we use data is to solicit community input and assess our population’s needs. Last year, surveys of families about their desires and needs informed content and practice for 100 workshops, which 97% of participants rated as exceeding expectations. In addition, for the past 3 years, JCC’s annual Jacksonville Child Trends & Statistics Report has provided an overall assessment of the status of Jacksonville’s children. As Mayor Peyton says, “This useful information will help us to continue to effectively direct resources to further support the children and families in our community.”

We also use data to track how many families are using our services and how much they are benefiting (see sidebar), as well as to track outcomes for the nonprofits with whom we contract. By measuring program effectiveness, these data help us make strategic decisions about which services to continue to support and which to eliminate. We also use outcome data to help parents make good choices; for example, we have collaborated with the Early Learning Coalition of Duval County to create a quality rating system for early childhood programs.

The success of our efforts is evident from Jacksonville voters’ beliefs about education. According to a recent opinion survey, “promoting early childhood literacy” ranked fourth in overall importance and first in excellence among children’s issues.

1 Jacksonville Children’s Commission. (2007). Jacksonville child trends & statistics 1990–2005. Jacksonville, FL: Author.

Brenda Miller
Family Involvement Coordinator.
Tel: 904-630-7004

Ginger Peacock Preston
Associate Director for School Readiness
Tel: 904-630-7279

Jacksonville Children’s Commission
1095 A. Philip Randolph Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32206

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© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project