It’s “all in the family” at the Aspire Institute

On the evening of Thursday, January 24, Boston Family Engagement Partnership held the first of three “Family Reunions” scheduled for this year. The energy in the room added significance to the event’s title, as some members of the family clearly work closely on a regular basis, whereas others hadn’t seen each other in some time, and still others experienced the first meeting with that long-lost cousin they knew was out there, but had never Famiy Reunion group actually met. Everyone arrived with a sense of the contributions they’ve made to the project so far, but the hour-long program afforded each individual moving part a more contextualized sense of the work being done.

Aspire Institute Senior Director Jake Murray welcomed the group with a brief overview of how the program came to be and some highlights of what’s happened so far. Program Director Karen Marshall offered a refresher on the structure and goals of the partnership. There are a number of different moving parts to the partnership and each of them has been busy in their own right since (or before) the program launched in September: fellows have been busy in class; school administrators have been working to infuse the learning and resources from the fellowship within their schools; research has commenced and information is continuously being gathered to inform the direction of resource development for the partnership.

Wheelock Professor Tina Durand, one of the lead faculty members for the fellowship, shared an update on the research component of the partnership: all fellows have been certified through trainings by the National Institute of Health and family focus groups and individual interviews are now underway. The 75-question family engagement survey developed by Wheelock, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and SurveyMonkey has been refined and translated into nine languages and will soon be distributed to families of our eleven partner schools. Tech development partners Jerrold Randall and David Vassel of Inventiv Solutions were also present to share updates from their perspective. In addition to sharing some information about progress around technology resources, Randall expressed real excitement around being a part of the partnership and the importance of Inventiv seeing the whole Family Reunion working groups “family” together in person. 

After gaining some context and perspective for progress thus far, each table held its own discussion in response to questions about all aspects of the partnership. The room buzzed as advisory board members, fellows, partners, school administrators, and Aspire staff engaged in rich conversation, everyone offering their unique outlook on things.

The BFEP Family Reunion embodied the values espoused by the partnership– collaboration, transparency, and relationship-building, among others—and recalibrated the movement to continue the hard work of further understanding and advancing family engagement in Boston schools.

Dana Fitchett is the Program Coordonator for Education Innovation at Aspire. Prior to landing at Aspire, Dana worked in education in a number of different realms. She has worked in both public and private education, as well as with high school and middle school age students. She has been a tutor across all academic subjects, an English Language Arts teaching assistant, a modern dance teacher, and a dorm parent, and has been involved in efforts to increase educational access in all of her roles. Most recently, Dana worked at The Steppingstone Foundation, where her primary role was to provide assistance to Boston Public School families looking to enroll their children in Boston exam schools or independent schools. Dana’s primary concern is increasing access to quality education and services for under-resourced populations. Dana is also a dancer and choreographer and continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. She received an A.B. from Vassar College in Urban Studies with concentrations in Sociology and Black Studies.