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FINE Newsletter, Volume I, Issue 4
Issue Topic: Family Engagement as a Shared Responsibility

Voices From the Field

Through open communication and a mutual investment in solving a problem, one parent, school principal, and district-level family advocate helped bring about positive change in a Federal Way, Washington, middle school. Kelley O’Carroll and Angela Griffin write about the shared responsibility of co-constructing an effective solution and how this effort inspired a parent to advocate for the entire student body, not just her own child.

When Angela Griffin’s daughter was in the eighth grade, she and her family attended an end-of-year celebration. The family had been very excited for the event —extended family members traveled from far away to attend, Angela’s daughter had picked out a special semi-formal dress to wear, and Angela thought that the celebration would be a great way to help her daughter feel excited about her coming transition to high school. What they thought was going to be an inclusive graduation ceremony, however, turned out to be an awards ceremony, and Angela and her family felt growing frustration and disappointment as they watched other children receive awards while Angela’s daughter earned no special recognition of her own. Angela also noted that very few of the approximately 75 awardees that night were African-American.

Disappointed about her own daughter’s experience and worried about the underrepresentation of the African-American student community in the awards ceremony, Angela approached the eighth grade staff and the school principal with her concerns. When she did not feel she received a satisfactory response, she reached out to the superintendent, who then connected Angela with Trise Moore, the district’s Family Partnership Advocate.

 “What Trise taught me was to come with a solution rather than just a problem,” says Angela. Trise asked Angela a series of brainstorming questions to prompt her to think about what she would like to see happen as a result of her complaint, what she might have done differently had she been in charge of the program, and how she could help the school staff identify steps they could take to provide better outcomes for all students, not only her daughter. When the school principal agreed to talk again, Angela arrived prepared to propose a solution. 

Angela’s resolution called for school staff to make the parents of incoming sixth graders better aware of the awards their children could earn at the end of their eighth grade year. “That way,” she says, “[parents] are motivating their kids to try to achieve those awards, and… we see more of our kids getting those awards.” The principal liked Angela’s suggestion, and committed to providing parents with information about the awards offered and what they could do to help their children earn them. Angela’s son is now in the sixth grade and she looks forward to seeing how the school has changed its approach to preparing families for the awards ceremony.

Encouraged by her positive experience affecting change, Angela also accepted Trise’s invitation to become a parent advocate within the district. In this role, Angela has supported parents in schools and coordinated activities within the Family Partnership Office—including parent advocate workshops, which use role modeling to teach parents how to ask school staff the right questions and develop problem solving strategies. Angela became so invested in working on behalf of the student body that she decided to run for the school board. Four years later, as a school board member, Angela remains committed to the mission that first motivated her to talk to her daughter’s eighth grade school staff: advocacy for all children.

“Being a parent advocate, I get the opportunity to hear from parents about what’s going on with their kids and see what’s going on in the schools. Whenever there’s something going on with my child, I assume it’s going on with other children. So, I try to change it not just for my child but to make sure no other child experiences it.”

This article is part of the November 2009 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family involvement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the FINE Newsletter Archive, visit

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