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Consistently “Invisible” Family Engagement

I grew up in a small town in Missouri and most of the teachers knew my parents through their work at the local university, church attendance, community activities, or involvement with my older sibling - “the track star.” I was typically well-behaved and earned higher than average grades which led educators to assume I came from a stable, loving, and nurturing home environment. This is true, but the majority of my parents’ consistent actions were “invisible” to my teachers, administrators, and peers. My African-American mother and Ghanaian-immigrant father were not perfect parents, but they were intentionally consistent parents. They knew a child’s education happens at home and at school.

I am the mother of two teenagers. I find myself, along with my husband, parenting our children in a way that is comfortable and familiar to us. I have always wanted to parent them as my parents raised me. I eventually realized that goal is impossible to achieve for a plethora of reasons. The world is drastically different from the 80’s and 90’s when we grew up. Technology is an easily accessible distraction that has impacted all areas of our lives. My husband’s job and work schedule vary from my parents’ dynamic. We live in a large city and our children attend heavily populated schools with a more diverse student population. I had to release the pressure to imitate their parenting and innovate to make my current reality function. Regardless of my circumstance, there are valuable nuggets of wisdom we can learn from their example. Purposefully, intentionally, and consistently implementing these 10 actions, I will share, are my keys to generational thinking!

I intentionally wrote My Name is an Address in a picture book storytelling format. I wanted to visually capture the remnants of my parents' powerful “invisible” family engagement. The children’s book is a mentor text for parents, immigrants, and educators who want to forge a two-way partnership. Please don’t assume the strategies are common. Please don’t assume that all families, especially immigrant families, are already doing these actions linked to learning. We are not a monolith.

It is not easy to give up your home, language, family, culture, and job to move across the world. It is the ultimate act of courage to prioritize a better life for your children and choose to parent in another country. I was born in America, but my spouse and a number of family and friends migrated to America from Ghana, West Africa. The parent/child relationship they grew up with was quite different than is commonly practiced in American homes. Many immigrants want to know how to preserve their family’s cultural heritage and learn ways to connect with their children who are immersed in the American/other culture. As Dr. Debbie Pushor states, “the role of a parent is sacred.” We, as educators, need to adopt a familycentric approach (rather than schoolcentric) to working with parents and caregivers. It’s an approach that preserves the role of the parent and values parent knowledge alongside teacher knowledge.

My Name is an Address is a mentor text for authentic family engagement. I will use my parents’ actions and artifacts (that are illustrated in the book) to list tips educators can share with all families in the school community. I will also suggest ways to naturally and meaningfully engage families on and off-campus.

1. Create a home library

One of my cousins describes my parents’ home as an encyclopedia or library. There are shelves of all types of books, magazines, and newspapers. I saw my parents reading daily. My dad had pencil cups and sticky notes in every room of the house for his annotation purposes. They read and shared what they were reading and printed or clipped articles for my sister and me to read too. Encourage families to visit the school or neighborhood library. Before or after school and open library hours are great ways to offer families the opportunity to access materials together and receive staff support. Advocacy is also important, to ask and seek out texts that may not currently be in circulation. (Thank you for asking for my book, if you do not see it on your library shelf.) Highlight bilingual books and books written in other languages. Share tips for finding books with characters, stories, languages, and images that reflect their lives. Assemble take-home book bags or create a book exchange program for families. Record short and informative videos (in multiple languages) on how to raise readers.

2. Share oral and written stories

My dad is an amazing storyteller. I still recall captivating stories he orally shared with his students and congregation. Some of the stories he learned from his voracious reading, the Ghanaian oral storytelling tradition, and others he spontaneously made up. For example, he owns almost all of the books in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series and he retells the Anansi stories from his childhood. Offer family storytimes for adults to hear how to read books aloud. Invite parents and caregivers to be guest readers and storytellers throughout the year.

3. Keep a family scrapbook or photo album

My mother created over 100 photo albums during her lifetime. Most parents take pictures of their children and families with their cell phones these days. Photos are saved in the cloud (or on the phone) or shared on social media. If photos are printed, they may be framed and hung on the wall. Educators and administrators could offer opportunities for families to create scrapbooks together. Encourage families to practice oral storytelling with family photos. Provide basic strategies, like the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why), for writing descriptive captions. Educators can share their photo albums and strategies for documenting their family’s history to build reciprocal relationships with the school community.

4. Create homemade books as a family

I still have the first homemade book my mother made. In fact, I have all of them, and I marvel at each

one! Share strategies for making homemade bilingual books. Pages could include pictures, drawings, or magazine clippings. Label the images with the English and home language. State the overwhelmingly positive research about the benefits of bilingualism.

5. Connect with the classroom teacher and specialists

My mother was a professional artist. She specialized in portraiture, carving, calligraphy, pastels, watercolors, and more. My father has a tremendous collection of artifacts from Ghana, taught Africana Studies at the university, and was an Olympic-level athlete. Tapping into their parent knowledge would make any teacher’s (history, geography, science, math, reading informational text, art, and P.E.) lessons more authentic, hands-on, and relevant to the students. Educators may find conducting a family survey(s) at the beginning of the year and at the beginning of each unit beneficial. Inform families about which standards you are teaching and invite parent knowledge. Home visits (remote, in-person) and phone calls are extremely insightful and powerful ways to connect with parent knowledge. Community meet-ups are another avenue for connecting with personal interests and social capital.

6. Schedule game night

I loved playing Scrabble with my mom and Ludo with my dad.

Playing games together as a family is academically beneficial. Strategic thinking is mathematical thinking. One of the best ways to claim your heritage in mathematics is to find a game of strategy from your own cultural history. Encourage families to play the classic games they grew up playing.

7. Travel the world

I had the privilege to travel as a child. My dad drove 18 hours to take us to visit our mother’s family in Hobbs, New Mexico. He also drove us from Missouri to South Dakota to visit an uncle and family. We flew to Ghana twice during my childhood. I volunteered my dad to chaperone all of my school field trips. Travel is one of the best forms of education. It does not have to be expensive or in-person. Google Earth, YouTube, the Travel Channel, and other sources open windows and sliding glass doors to the world. Educators can suggest and model multiple ways to explore the world, especially when funding or access may be limited.

8. Personalized gifts and handwritten notes

From my personalized sticker book to the giant poster at a birthday party, my mother wrote my name on everything. Mama knew my name was uncommon in the United States, and she intentionally wrote my name on products and handmade gifts. She also had my name professionally embossed on things, like my school pencils. I cherish her handwriting and messages in my photo albums too. “Have a good day, little love” is an example of a quick note that would brighten any child’s day. Encourage families to write notes to one another in various ways. These notes could be passed through parent/child dialogue journals, sticky notes placed on the bathroom mirror, notes on table napkins, or construction paper hearts on the child’s bedroom door. Educators can write postcards, cards, or letters to students and families. My mother saved a letter from my first-grade teacher in a photo album.

9. Talk time

Family dinner and car rides were our consistent opportunities for uninterrupted family discussion. We talked about everything - school, culture, goals, struggles, achievements, and friendships. My parents listened and asked us follow-up questions. It was less of a lecture format and more of an inquisitive conversation. I always felt seen and heard. Additionally, I recall generating questions for casual interviews with my grandfather and late grandmother. I wish they were all recorded, but I am glad it is not too late! Educators can encourage families by providing short prompts and translated conversation starters.

10. Use your senses!

Providing consistent opportunities to touch, taste, smell, feel, and see the world is the best summation of my parents’ approach to parenting. From the Ghanaian artifacts to mama’s artwork to family vacations to sports team participation to cooking meals, to co-viewing documentaries, to marching in community parades, to playing games, to planting gardens - I learned valuable lessons for life. Educators could explicitly suggest natural, authentic, and meaningful family activities and how they are clearly linked to learning.

Of course, my teachers could not see the totality of potential home-school connections with our family. My parents did not expect my teachers to fully educate me. I hope My Name is an Address will be utilized as a conversation starter with families at home and educators at school. The ideas listed here and visually presented in the book may help build a long-term and respectful bridge between educators and families. Mutual consistency in implementation and purposeful reflection are what cultural relevance in education is all about. Achievement will soar when educators view families from an asset-based lens and genuinely pursue partnerships that value parent knowledge and engagement.

About the Author:

Ekuwah [Mends] Moses



Ekuwah [Mends] Moses is a K-5 Engineering Specialist in Las Vegas, NV. She previously worked as a Family Engagement Facilitator, Performance Zone Instructional Coach, K-5 Literacy Specialist, Learning Strategist, and elementary classroom teacher. My Name is an Address is her debut children’s book.

My Name is an Address A GPS system navigates you to where you are going, but your name could lead to what you are looking for. What's in a name? Ekuwah Mends opens a window into her family, history, culture, language, geography, and more. Ultimately, be inspired to find your own address. #MyNameIsAnAddress

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