Foothill College: Family Engagement, Investing in a Community for College Success

Betsy Nikolchev and Robin Galas
Member Spotlight

The Family Engagement Institute (FEI) was established in 2010 in partnership with Foothill College to promote equity and access to quality education from early childhood through college. FEI works to close the opportunity divide by providing educational opportunities for underserved families with children, starting at birth and continuing through adolescence. By focusing simultaneously on strengthening the capacity of families, schools, and communities, we are able to build family engagement strategies that are systemic and integrated to ensure student success.  

FEI defines family engagement as a shared responsibility among families, schools, and communities. Family engagement is achieved when educational institutions and community organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways, and families are committed to actively supporting student learning and development. This approach builds on the influence of family on a child's well-being and supports it by keeping families informed and engaged as powerful advocates for their children.

The Family Engagement Institute partners with education institutions and community organizations that serve low income children, youth, and families to deliver programs promoting family engagement, school and workforce readiness, and pathways to postsecondary education. Workshops for parents and educators are designed to build capacity among families, service providers, and schools serving Prek-12 students. FEI serves approximately 1,300 families and educators a year. 

As a part of Foothill College, FEI can offer educational material and faculty from the community college to deliver programs to partner organizations. Through this process, families become community college students under the college's noncredit parenting division. Having student status gives them access to college resources such as counseling, computer labs, and the library. In this way, FEI serves as a college bridge program helping families build the skills, find the tools, and develop the confidence to successfully enroll in other community college classes.

By building relationships with families and schools, FEI and Foothill College are supporting a college-bound culture for low-income communities and helping families navigate the college experience. One successful example is Day on the Hill, where educators, families, and children are invited to spend a day at the college for presentations, campus tours, financial aid workshops, and talks by first generation college students. 

FEI offers classes for families in seven content areas:

  • Stretch to Kindergarten, a tuition-free parent participation and kindergarten readiness program
  • Strong Start, a parenting program
  • Family Literacy
  • Fatherhood/Male Involvement
  • Healthy Choices
  • Family Learning Labs for computer literacy, science, and math
  • Pathways to College

For educators, FEI offers professional development focusing on:

  • Strategic planning and implementation
  • Cultural competency
  • Dual language learners
  • Early math

Course lengths range from an eight-hour workshop series to a six-week spring-summer intensive. The curriculum is vetted through a state approval process under the California Community Colleges. Besides being affordable and accessible, FEI's educational programs are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically responsive. 

Family programs provide opportunities to strengthen family engagement, increase knowledge about stages of human development, and build parenting strategies that support healthy, successful children who are prepared for school and college.

Educator programs provide professional development opportunities to partnering organizations.  Participants can continue their education by enrolling in courses offered through Foothill's Child Development Program and receive college credit that is applicable to continuing education requirements, certificates, and associate degrees, as well as university transfer pathways leading to the baccalaureate. FEI also provides mentors and coaches who help early childhood educators deliver high quality programs, further expanding the capacity of partner organizations to better serve families and children.

In a 2010 research paper, Beyond Random Acts Family, School, and Community Engagement as an Integral Part of Education Reform, the Harvard Family Research Project concludes that family engagement is "an innovative strategy in education reform."

"Over 40 years of research confirms that family engagement improves school readiness, student academic achievement, and graduation rates," the report notes. "FSCE in education should become an essential strategy in building this pathway to college- and career-readiness in today's competitive global society."

By establishing and supporting the Family Engagement Institute, Foothill College is both innovating and following a proven strategy to increase student success.

Betsy Nikolchev, Executive Director; Robin Galas, Assistant Director, Family Engagement Institute, Foothill College