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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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Through our extensive research on family engagement, and with the support of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Harvard Family Research Project is undertaking a new project that will focus on increasing understanding and implementation of the expanded definition of family engagement at a key time in the life of a child and the family: the transition to school. Family engagement is a shared responsibility of families, schools, afterschool programs, and communities. It is a continuous process, based on family strengths, that takes place from birth to young adulthood. It happens across multiple learning settings, including the home, school, and community, where families are empowered as decision makers and leaders.

We consider transition as a process that begins with a child’s preschool enrollment and extends to the first three years of elementary school. Important to our family engagement work is active participation from our partners: By joining the conversation and contributing insight and lessons learned, our partners will enable us to document promising transition processes, establish a public dialogue, and develop capacity building tools. We will ensure that our research and communication activities promote strengths-based approaches and support families and communities, both local and national. We will elevate the work of our partners and that of others who are committed to family engagement in the transition years.

We invite you to join our efforts to promote meaningful family engagement during the transition process. We encourage you to share ideas about transition policies and practices and provide examples of programs that we should document for their exemplary transition work. We are also interested in how you or your organization can spread the word about the importance of family engagement in transition.

Our work on the transition from early childhood to the early years of school will center on:

  • the importance of family engagement as a shared responsibility among families and all who promote children’s learning
  • a broad focus on transition as including school and other community resources—such as afterschool programs and libraries—that offer rich learning opportunities
  • an inquiry as to whether communities can implement the definition of family engagement in the transition, and if implementation, in turn, can function as a lever of change so that family engagement extends beyond the transition period into the higher grade levels.

The transition to school is especially relevant to our work because we know that family engagement begins to drop off as children leave early childhood programs and enter formal schooling, and that the quality of transition services is often characterized by inequities and misperceptions based on families’ income, immigrant status, and race. 

We will work with national partners, local communities, and others to stimulate the conversation about how to effectively implement a broad approach to transition and build sustained family engagement, especially among families most in need of support. Our primary aim is to ensure that our documentation and communication activities will help local communities and national entities inform each other and work together to adopt and implement the expanded definition of family engagement during a child’s entry into formal schooling. We will support welcoming environments where families are at the table in decision making about their children’s transition and have equal access to quality transition practices.

Three main objectives, all of which will necessitate input from a variety of sources, guide our work: (1) to document, lift up, and share promising and innovative family engagement transition practices, emphasizing those that address barriers to and increase opportunities for equity; (2) to dialogue about the feasibility of the definition of family engagement during the transition; and (3) to develop the capacity of families and communities to build the relationships and communication channels that promote effective family engagement during the transition.

(1) Documentation
• identify and write about communities that are committed to quality transition processes, where family engagement is a core strategy for successful transition
• crowdsource information about these communities and thereby spark interest in family engagement during transition
• solicit input and feedback from communities concerning our resource materials and compile useful tools from other organizations

(2) Dialogue
•convene a national advisory panel of members from the local to the national level to review and offer expert advice about our family engagement vision and strategy
•spark an online dialogue about the barriers to and opportunities for family engagement in the transition, as well as the changes at individual, organizational, and systems levels to promote equitable family engagement
•share with a broad national audience lessons and promising practices about community transition efforts

(3) Development
• create a set of training tools (such as a case study training package and parent leadership module) for practitioners and families based on our documentation, dialogue, and discovery of other organizations’ tools and resources
• use our website and other digital media tools as platforms to communicate and disseminate these tools and resources nationally

Through our documentation, dialogue, and development of capacity-building activities, we hope to catalyze a shift in the mindset of practitioners so that they rely on strengths-based rather than deficit-based models of families. We aspire to inform policy conversations about providing high-quality transition practices and information to families in an equitable manner. We seek to increase families’ access to anytime, anywhere learning opportunities during and beyond the crucial transition period.

For further information about this project contact Heather Weiss or M. Elena Lopez.

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