Are you the parent of a middle school student? A business owner interested in seeing the Blue Mountain Region thrive economically? A community member who wants to support local students and families? The Educational Attainment Alliance invites you to join the Middle School Family and Community Engagement Working Group. The Educational Attainment Alliance was formed in response to Community Council’s 2016 study, “Education as a Path to Economic Growth.” The three-year study showed a clear connection between community support for education and a healthy, thriving economy. A top recommendation involved the formation of a regional alliance to bring the community together in support of education. United Way of the Blue Mountains stepped in to serve as a financial and the administrative backbone for the initiative and, in 2019, a Steering Committee was convened to guide the work of the Alliance. The Educational Attainment Alliance ultimately hopes to build a strong educational pipeline that carries all students successfully from their earliest years through a post-secondary experience to gainful employment. While it is often the case that schools alone are tasked with making this pipeline function, the Alliance hopes to engage the wider community—from those with the most obvious investment in education, to businesses, non-profits, and government. By de-centering institutions and centering students and families instead, the Alliance hopes to draw the entire community into an effort to better support our students. Because the Alliance takes a “cradle-to-career” approach, one of the Steering Committee’s earliest tasks was identifying a starting point. In late 2019, they identified the middle school years as a first priority area. As a transition from elementary to high school, the middle school years are a pivotal time in a student’s educational path. These are years of possibility and exploration, and success during middle school can lead to greater success in high school, and beyond. To help drive positive change at the Middle School level, the Alliance is currently establishing a Middle School Working Group. The Steering Committee has a big task for this group: identify strategies that will improve family and community engagement at the middle school level. While many possible focus areas were considered, there is mounting evidence that meaningful family and community engagement is a key component in student success. Dr. Karen Mapp, senior lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has spent her career researching family and community engagement: “We’ve seen it go from a backburner, add-on, compliance type of strategy to one where mindsets have been shifted to understand that family and community engagement needs to be a core strategy for whole school improvement,” Mapp says, “We’re really seeing this has been picked up as a core part of school improvement.” In focus group conversations with local students, families, and school staff, it has been noted repeatedly that engagement poses a particular challenge at the middle school level. In elementary school, most students have just one teacher, but in middle school they have many. Traditional engagement opportunities—parent teacher associations, parent teacher conferences, school events—look different, and students are expected to become more independent. This combination can lead families to wonder what role they are expected to play.   With these challenges in mind, the Alliance’s Steering Committee has set two objectives for the Working Group: first, increase positive connections among middle school students, their families, schools, and the community through purposeful communication and meaningful engagement. Second, create opportunities in schools and in the community that inspire students and support their successful transition to high school. If this sounds like a project you would like to be involved with, please e-mail Jacqueline Lonning, Collective Impact Coordinator at United Way of the Blue Mountains: No particular experience or expertise is required; we welcome volunteers of all ages and walks of life. For now, all meetings will utilize a digital platform that can be accessed by computer or phone. 
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