A key component of Future Forward is its intensive focus on improving literacy through family engagement (Jones, 2015). Researchers have found that increased parental involvement in their children's schooling is connected to early literacy gains. While outcomes for all students improve with additional family involvement, the demonstrated positive working relationship between the home and school is shown to have an added literacy benefit (Dearing et. al, 2006; Carroll, 2013; Lin, 2003). Not only does increased family engagement lead to increased positive feelings about literacy - which in turn improves literacy performance - but family involvement is closely connected to student attendance (Dearing et. al, 2006). School districts in Cleveland, Ohio recognize this, and Cleveland schools "partner with several organizations to help provide families with everything from a bus pass to emergency shelter to legal help" to promote student attendance (PBS NewsHour, 2018). This makes sense, Chang says, because a school district can’t solve deeper social problems on its own. Additionally, research has shown 'school, family, and community partnership practices can significantly decrease chronic absenteeism' (Sheldon & Epstein, 2004). Ultimately, for literacy instruction to work and for student literacy levels to improve, children first need to be in school to receive it.
Through innovative guardian engagement and outreach practices, Future Forward is designed to address the need for family involvement in a successful literacy intervention. At the heart of this effort are Future Forward's Family Engagement Coordinators, whose goals are to promote literacy in the home and community and to provide a safe, supportive space that allows students to develop confidence and self-esteem. Coordinators stay connected to parents through a variety of means, such as social media, written communication, parent events, and home visits.
Family events focus on ways in which adults can augment learning at home and engage the whole family in daily literacy activities, such as daily "read-alouds" with intentional breaks to discuss picture-to-text correlation and the content of the books themselves. Program staff also continually look for ways to learn the families' needs and point adults towards resources they might not access otherwise, such as community resources around workforce development, educational opportunities, how to be an advocate for their child, and effective communication.
Dearing, E., Kreider, H., Simpkins, S., & Weiss, H.B. (2006). Family Involvement in School and Low-Income Children's Literacy: Longitudinal Associations Between and Within Families. Journal of Educational Psychology 98 (4), 653.
Carroll, C.J. (2013). The Effects of Parental Literacy Involvement and Child Reading Interest on the Development of Emergent Literacy Skills. Theses and Dissertations. Paper 230.
Lin, Q. (2003). Parent Involvement and Early Literacy. Harvard Family Research Project.
Sheldon, S.B., & Epstein, J.L. (2004). Getting Students to School: Using Family and Community Involvement to Reduce Chronic Absenteeism. School Community Journal 14 (2), 39.
Jones, C. (2015). The Results of a Randomized Control Trial Evaluation of the SPARK Literacy Program. Milwaukee, WI: Socially Responsible Evaluation in Education (SREed).