In September, Hiawatha Family Academy kicked off with over 50 families attending. Over the course of four Saturday workshops, families engaged in conversations that support them in becoming stronger advocates for their children, their school and their community. Some of the topics included conversations around:

  • disparities in educational outcomes for students of color
  • Hiawatha Academies’ mission and vision
  • how to overcome the gap between home and school
  • what tools parents can utilize to better communicate with their child’s teachers
  • what questions to consider asking at parent teacher conferences
  • what is academic rigor and how to look for it
  • how to hold the school accountable and advocate for students at school


Close Reading Practice

This year, there were two great highlights for families. The first was a close reading activity which engaged families in reading a short poem in English or Spanish. The poem engaged families for forty minutes on the deepest meanings of the words used. Parents actively debated the author’s intent, and the characters’ perspectives. The poem moved them to think critically about culture and cultural misunderstandings they have experienced and the interactions their teachers have with their children. “It was exciting to watch families engage in practicing close reading, which is one of our top priorities for the year,” stated Family Engagement Manager Shannon Gavin. “Our families now have added tools to understand how to support their children in critically thinking skills. It means our scholars are getting support at home and at school to be successful, and that is what every parent wants for their child.”

It Takes a Village: The Importance of Reading

The second greatest highlight was a request made by a parent who had been struggling with getting her child to read and do homework at home. She asked our Family Academy facilitator, Mark Robinson, to talk to the scholars about the importance of reading. “I talked to my son about reading after the first session and he was incredulous about the number of words he needed to know and the amount of time he needed to read. I thought a good way to get through to him was by having someone other than me or the teacher talk to him,” said Hiawatha parent Anai Hernandez. While Mark sat and spoke to our young scholars about the importance of reading, parents were beaming with smiles at their children and intently listening to the conversation.

Reflecting on the program over the past two years, Ambar Hanson, Senior Director of Community Engagement, stated, “When families develop a strong sense of agency, they ask for what they need and help us do better because they know their child best. Ms. Hernandez is a great example of how families and the school can work together when we communicate effectively between school and home. No one would know better than Ms. Hernandez what types of motivation her son needs to do well in school.”

Family Academy ended with a beautiful ceremony honoring families with certificates for the completion of the program. We look forward to the Hiawatha Collegiate High School session this fall and to the next series of Hiawatha Family Academy in the winter.