The West Virginia Family Engagement Center (WVFEC) program offers families a variety of opportunities to participate with their child’s learning inside and outside of the school. The family-inclusive tenets of the West Virginia Family Engagement Center program support the idea that an inclusive family-school environment creates a culture of learners that involve families and the school’s community in meaningful contributions to improve the educational results of its students. Currently, WVFEC programming is wrapping up in its third cohort of counties, which includes Mercer, Barbour, Roane, Nicholas, Preston, Clay, Lewis, Webster, Mason, Ritchie, Pleasants, and Logan Counties.

Elevating Rural Family Voice

At the start of its work with Cohort 3 counties and schools, the West Virginia Family Engagement Center began its implementation of Family Leader Focus Groups to elevate family voice throughout WVFEC programmatic planning and implementation. The purpose of the WVFEC family leader focus group is to collect, analyze, and disseminate data related to family attitudes and perceptions regarding family engagement in West Virginia schools. These data have been utilized by WVFEC Program Directors, Family Engagement Specialists, the West Virginia Department of Education, and local, state, and national partners to better understand the ways in which students and families within rural communities respond to both successes and challenges around family engagement efforts.

The family leader focus groups showcase the voices and lived experiences of rural students and families in order to best support their needs through WVFEC family engagement programming in West Virginia Schools. Topics discussed during the family leader focus groups included communication, engagement, trust, transparency, and issues of equity and needed supports. Following the family leader focus groups, the family-facing data was triangulated with data from administrators, educators, and school staff from our participating schools. The information from the families, as well as additional data presented by the schools has helped tremendously in better identifying and supporting core areas of need, directly shown by participating families. Data was utilized by Cohort 3 educators, administrators, and staff throughout the entirety of their participation in the West Virginia Family Engagement Center program to plan and implement family engagement programming utilizing a family-first method that elevated rural family voice throughout.

The West Virginia Family Engagement Center continued to elevate and amplify rural family voice as it was selected to participate in a national rural family engagement fellowship with The Flamboyan Foundation. This partnership with The Flamboyan Foundation emphasizes the importance of effective family engagement.

“Students do better when families and educators work together as equal partners. For students most impacted by inequity, this equal partnership – what we call effective family engagement – often doesn’t happen well or at all.”

The Flamboyan Foundation

This national partnership with The Flamboyan Foundation enabled the West Virginia Family Engagement Center to work alongside school districts and school to enhance effective family engagement practices in West Virginia Schools by creating innovative and immersive events for rural families to share their experiences with family engagement through the Rural Family Voices Listening Tour. The Rural Family Voices Listening Tour incorporates family leader focus groups to collect data related to family attitudes and perceptions regarding family engagement and academic achievement to support West Virginia schools and families. This project elevates both the voices and lived experiences of students and families to inform schools of challenges and opportunities related to family engagement. In addition, the project builds a context for the importance of family engagement within the underrepresented rural communities in West Virginia.

The information from these families, as well as triangulated data from the schools, supports improved learning outcomes, along with opportunities for enhanced trust, transparency, and communication—amplifying the often unheard rural voices in family engagement. The team of WVFEC Family Engagement Specialists worked alongside four counties to connect with 50-60 family representatives on listening, landscaping, and context building. All four counties are heavily comprised of underserved and underrepresented students and families. To gain enhanced trust and relationship building, data has been collected by a team of Family Engagement Specialists who are all West Virginia natives that are committed to sharing and amplifying what is learned from the Rural Family Voices Listening Tour. Additional Rural Family Voices Listening Tours will be hosted in Summer 2022.

To learn more about the West Virginia Family Engagement Center and the Rural Family Voices Listening Tour, contact WVFEC Assistant Director Dr. Meaghan Cochrane at [email protected].