WCTE Helps Rethink Parent Engagement in Tennessee

Last Updated by Anna McDonald on
Local families take part in a WCTE workshop in Cookeville, TN.
Courtesy WCTE

In Cookeville, Tennessee, WCTE is moving the needle on meaningful family engagement, and strengthening community partnerships along the way. 

WCTE’s Family Creative Learning Workshops take place at local elementary schools throughout Putnam County and aim to teach coding concepts to children while also engaging their families. The station offers dinner for participating families followed by a fun, interactive learning curriculum for both children and adults, focused around the PBS KIDS ScratchJr app, and taking place over multiple nights.  

Roughly 15 families participate in each workshop, and while the children learn tangible coding and storytelling skills (which in many cases they then turn around and teach to their parents), the adults benefit from an environment that models for them how to actively engage with their children. WCTE is strategic in starting these workshops at 5:30pm, just as parents are arriving at school to pick up their children from LEAPS, the county’s extended learning program. The station also does a PBS KIDS Playtime Pad drawing at each workshop, to incentivize attendance.

One such workshop earlier this year caught the attention of a local education professional who was already familiar with WCTE’s education services, and who also happened to be the president of the Cookeville Breakfast Rotary. This led to a Rotary Club grant to provide an additional workshop targeting non-English speaking families in the community.

The Rotary-funded workshop, which was free and open to all, took place in October and attracted 20 families, including 37 adults and 44 children. In addition to the coding concepts covered with PBS KIDS ScratchJr, WCTE reinforced engineering themes by integrating the book Rosie Revere, Engineer into the workshop and including Rotary Club volunteers in workshop activities, several of whom are professional women in the engineering field.  

Many of the parents at the workshop, which targeted low-income families, had not necessarily had the luxury of meaningfully participating in their children’s learning before the workshop. The WCTE workshop offered these parents an entry point into their children’s learning, and provided a valuable opportunity for parents to meet other parents, building and strengthening their community.

And because the workshop incorporated resources that are accessible for free, families are able to go home and continue their learning and engagement. The Rotary Club partnership has also made it possible for WCTE to continue its in-person engagement with the families, with additional workshops for the same group of parents scheduled for January and April 2018, respectively.

In the words of the elementary school principal where the workshop was held, “this is true parent engagement versus family involvement, and it has inspired me to rethink how we engage our families across the board.”

The workshop has strengthened the impact of WCTE’s services as well. Soon after the October workshop, WCTE was invited by the Putnam County School System Federal Programs Supervisor to present at a statewide family engagement education meeting, building its profile as a trusted, go-to-source for early education and parent engagement in the state. This will hopefully open doors for more partnerships and funding to offer more workshops, including potentially training and empowering school employees to conduct them on their own, in concert with WCTE. 

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