On Friday morning the cafeteria at Cooper Early Education Center was serving breakfast, and it was easy to see who was not a student. The gray hairs betrayed their age.
Grandparents descended on the school by the dozens, all enticed with the opportunity to have breakfast with their grandchild. In some cases, children were flanked by both a grandmother and grandfather. In others, only one grandparent was around. And while not every child could be accompanied by their grandparents, there were a ton of smiles as breakfast was served.
It was all part of a plan by the school — one that is an attempt to get families involved in the education of students.
"(It is exciting to) see families connect, and connect in a different environment," said principal Sara Livesay. "The connection with teachers and staff helps with communication when there are celebrations or concerns for a family. It helps us get to know families and their needs better so we can serve them better."
The school's focus isn't solely on grandparents. There are regular "Family Fridays" — days for parents to join students for an activity and snack near the end of their school day.
This year the school has added a family game night, a "mommy and me" night, a "daddy and me" night and a Cooper family picnic.
"We have an increase in interest and we have added some events to get families involved," Livesay said. "You don't have to be the parent that brings party treats or is part of a PTO. There are lots of ways to be involved."
The commitment to bringing families comes not only from requirements by Head Start, but also to help families connect — and get family members involved in the education of students.
"It is important to have families involved so kids see that their parents value education," Livesay said, "that they value what is happening at school and are excited about what is happening at school. It helps parents understand they are really their child's first teacher."
There is research to support the notion that having a family involved in a student's education leads to better outcomes.
A report by the National Education Association looked at several research studies, and according to the association, all of those studies pointed in one direction.
According to the association, when schools engage families in ways that improve learning and support parent involvement at home and school, students make greater gains. When schools build partnerships with families that respond to parent concerns, honor their contributions and share decision-making responsibilities, they are able to sustain connections that are aimed at improving student achievement.
Also according to the association, the school plays an important role in determining the levels of parental involvement in school. Specifically, schools can outline their expectations of parents and regularly communicate with parents about what children are learning.
At Cooper, that means finding ways to bring the families into the school.
"A lot of it we gear towards having fun so that families are comfortable in a school environment before they start K-12 education," Livesay said.
About half of the students at Cooper are part of the Head Start program. Currently, the education center has about 200 children ages 3 and 4 enrolled in pre-school classes.