Commitment Spotlight: Engaging Families to Support Student Success

The PBS KIDS Family Creative Learning (FCL) Workshops are a part of PBS SoCal’s early learning initiative in partnership with CPB-PBS Ready To Learn #CSforALL Commitment. Here PBS SoCal shares their work on engaging families in southern California.

For more on family engagement watch the #CSforALL Summit panel — Engaging Families for Sustainable Impact and the STEM Next Family Engagement Promising Practices resource.

During a PBS SoCal Workshop, a mother learns tech skills with her son.

The 2016 STEM + Families study, commissioned by the Bayer company, underscores parents and caregivers’ needs for understanding and participating in STEM learning experiences:

  • Nearly one-third (31%) of parents don’t feel confident enough in their scientific knowledge to help their children engage in hands-on science activities.
  • One-third (32%) of teachers say parent support or involvement at home would be most helpful in increasing hands-on science learning experiences… but teachers indicate they only assign an average of two take-home activities a month, down from three per month in 1995.
  • Two-thirds (64%) of parents would like their child’s teacher to provide take-home science activities at least once a week, up 33 percent from 1995.

This study illuminates the need for parents and other family members to be welcomed as equal partners in STEM learning to support children, yet the narrative of the STEM achievement gap for students is usually focused on out-of-school and after-school programs, educators’ skills, or career pathways. Most investments and interventions are focused on formal and informal STEM programs targeting elementary and above grades, but most fail to engage families, especially those with young children, beyond “sign up” and “stay to watch” experiences.

Public media can be a powerful force in our communities, creating an environment where people are inspired to learn more. As community conveners and expert storytellers, we also have the power to have real social impact, to bring light to — and promote action to solve — critical issues faced by the local communities we serve, like access to technology and media for learning. PBS SoCal is committed to helping bridge the STEM education gap with meaningful parent engagement in media and technology for early learning. We believe families are the answer to engage young children in positive STEM experiences, like computer science and coding.

Since the launch of PBS Kids ScratchJr app, PBS SoCal has provided several family coding workshops in partnership with Compton schools, the district, nonprofit organizations, and early childhood agencies. Our model is called Family and Community Learning Workshops, and it is based on the Family Creative Learning work led by Dr. Ricarose Roque. Dr. Roque’s work explores ways to engage families in multi-generational content creation and invention utilizing media and technology.

During a PBS SoCal workshop, a father teaches his children tech skills.

In 2016, we laid the groundwork for meaningful parent engagement in computer science with our first family coding workshops at Stephen C. Foster Elementary School in Compton Unified School District. Our workshops are formatted to split families and children at the beginning of the workshops. We teach both parents and young children the concepts of coding separately. We train parents how to code through the PBS KIDS Scratchjr app. Families create interactive stories and games featuring their favorite PBS KIDS characters like Peg + Cat, WordGirl, Cat in the Hat, and Ready Jet Go. The storytelling possibilities are endless. After families are trained to use the coding app, we bring kids back to the main room where parents are practicing their coding skills. At this point, we take a step back and let families lead in teaching coding to their young kids.

“[I liked] the activities and being able to take it home so that my daughter can do it.” –Compton parent (Translated from Spanish)
“I learned different classes related to technology, like coding, that will help my children to learn.” –Compton parent (Translated from Spanish)

This is what we found to be the greatest success of our coding workshops — the empowerment families feel when they have learned something new, something they thought was impossible to do — because of their lack of English language knowledge, lack of education, or lack of skills. The results have been overwhelmingly positive; parents learn that it is within the family that one can instill a love for learning and help their young children develop values that promote education and demystify math and science.

“[I] learned how to use the PBS KIDS Scratchjr app and help my children at home to keep learning by playing, and exploring, and watching.” –Compton parent (Translated from Spanish)

Compton neighborhoods have been a priority for PBS SoCal for the past five years. Our goals are to reach low-income families with high-quality education resources, empower parents and caregivers on the importance of at-home learning, strengthen the early learning community in Southern California, and convene and mobilize the community around improving education outcomes for children ages 2–8. We continue the family coding workshops with the Compton Library as part of our commitment to Compton neighborhoods.

Adults learning basic coding skills during a PBS SoCal library workshop.

The Compton Library partnership builds on the relationships PBS SoCal is nurturing in Compton and gives the station much-needed access to a physical space that is perfectly suited for engagement activities such as our coding workshops. When we say parent involvement — we mean involvement in a comprehensive way — at home, in school, and in the community, such as the library. This past June, we donated 10 iPads to the Compton Library to continue to provide coding workshops and continue to engage families with the PBS KIDS Scratchjr app. We will be working with another Compton Unified School in December to celebrate #CSEDWeek and host our coding workshops to continue to empower families.

Susana (Susie) Beltran Grimm currently oversees PBS SoCal’s early learning initiative in technology and media for learning. Susana has designed STEM parent curricula using learning technologies and the PBS KIDS assets to launch a series of parent engagement workshops. Susana is responsible for building, sustaining, and expanding mutually beneficial relationships between PBS SoCal and the Southern California Community. Susana has helped address the needs of these communities with engaging educational content and enhanced the agency’s awareness and service knowledge. She is currently a student in the Doctor of Education in Learning Technologies program at Pepperdine University.