Educational Achievement and the Critical Intersection of Parent Engagement and Program Support

The headlines regarding educational achievement can be inspiring. We’ve all read them, “student receives 8 Ivy League acceptances,” “student beats the odds to graduate as their class valedictorian.” The end result in these cases is often easy to celebrate, but what we have found at FAME is that more often than not, what makes the end goal possible and a community celebration notable is what happened along the journey. The success, however success is defined, is owed to many individuals and supporters who have worked together to help promote the student’s success in the end.

I believe all of us hope that for our children, education can be a tool for success. We often like hearing about positive headline stories. Those stories remind me of the process of making rag rugs, often what we see is the top side view of a beautiful tapestry, an end product. However, if you looked at it from the back side you see all the loose ends, knots and strings, which represents the journey. The back side represents the many individuals, supports, challenges, areas of growth that it takes to produce that top side view of a beautiful tapestry. It reminds me that educational achievement is not something that happens magically, but rather through planned, diligent and dedicated team work. For FAME that team involves Scholars, Parents, FAME staff and board members, community partners, and schools all working together to achieve those place(s) and point(s) of educational success.

Center of Life

The educational journey for FAME Scholars is a journey for the entire family. While I can try to give voice to the importance and impact of our programs, our parent group leaders share their own experiences of the FAME program and highlight the critical intersection of parent engagement and program support. Often, in any educational setting or program some of the challenges to student success can be parent engagement and the capacity for program support.

What has proven successful at FAME and for our FAME Scholars and families has not only been the number of program supports that we offer, but the depth of support offered to our Scholars and families. I want to shine a light on our parent group leaders as they help us better understand how parent engagement and FAME program support promotes such end results and gives us a picture of actionable ways to support students in their educational settings.

When asked what were your expectations of how you and your child would be supported upon entering the FAME program and how has that expectation grown, expanded or changed since becoming more involved? Winchester Thurston School FAME Parents, Rev. Jackie and Rev. Rodney Lyde say “our expectations of how our daughters would be supported upon entering the FAME program was simply financial. However, immediately we realized FAME was much more, providing support to our girls with tutoring, leadership development, and awareness of community responsibility. In addition, FAME also provides support to parents through educational opportunities, programming and parent support groups.”

At FAME we consider a team approach that must include parent engagement. Effective parent engagement that helps both the student and parent. For Tyrone and Monica Tillman, FAME Kiski parents, effective parent engagement includes “understanding the culture of the school and advocating for your child’s needs as they matriculate throughout each academic year. Reaching out to faculty by fostering a productive relationship that promotes healthy dialogue to address challenges that our children face, supporting your child, visiting campus, and attending FAME and Kiski events/activities. For the Tillman’s what has led to their child’s growth and success is that “FAME emphasizes the need for parent involvement and plans events to educate parents and their Scholars. FAME sets criteria for academic success and provides safety nets to improve. These safety nets include motivation workshops, tutoring, internships, college tours, school visits, and parent meetings. The exposure to other resources enhances and broadens students and parents experiences. These experiences help us make informed choices about our Scholars short-term and long term educational goals.”

Colleges and Universities where FAME scholars have been admitted / Photo by Ben Filio

Colleges and Universities where FAME scholars have been admitted / Photo by Ben Filio

There is a critical role for parents to play in a child’s educational journey and while parents may not always feel equipped or integral, FAME parents have found this intersection and their involvement and leadership critical. Colleen Sims leads the FAME St. Edmund’s Academy Parent Group and she was willing to take on that role “in order to support the bridge between parents and Scholars. In doing so, I aimed to promote a sense of family, community and social networking among those enrolled in the program.”

Dr. Leonora Kivuva has been a FAME Parent for over twelve years, having seen two of her children matriculate through the FAME program. Dr. Kivuva leads the Ellis parent group and has always challenged and helped guide newer FAME parents on how to effectively engage within the independent school environment for the benefit of the Scholars. Often, parents don’t know what to ask or who to ask, but for Dr. Kivuva effective parent engagement is simply asking questions. She even shares sample questions with other parents like: “How am I assisting my child in reaching their highest potential? Am I in communication with her teachers? Do I ask my child how school is going, or if she has any concerns that she needs me to address? Is my child participating in co-and extra- curricular activities in ways that correspond to her God-given potential? As a parent, do I attempt to go to school and be a part of some of the activities? If I answer these questions in a positive or affirmative way, then I am doing what I should do to support my child.”

FAME is one of many organizations that serve youth in the Pittsburgh region. Our work is fueled by a vision to see the African American community prosper by achieving racial and socioeconomic equality through educational opportunity. It’s a vision that requires action and can’t be accomplished in a vacuum. At FAME the vision goes unfulfilled absent our mission in motion, which is to educate, empower and embolden African American youth to become student ambassadors of today, leaders of tomorrow and stewards of their communities. No student gets to a place(s) and point(s) of educational success without support and a planned approach.

Students enrich their learning during out-of-school time at FAME / Photo by Ben Filio

Students enrich their learning during out-of-school time at FAME / Photo by Ben Filio / Photo by Ben Filio

To accomplish our mission FAME provides African American students access to college preparatory education at participating independent schools via needs based financial assistance. FAME prepares students for success through attending FAME Academy and partner schools and by providing extensive ongoing programmatic support. Our programs help FAME Scholars develop through academic, extracurricular and holistic life experiences and grow into the leaders of tomorrow and none of this is possible without the engagement of parents as well.

If we just look at our 2017 graduating class, the end result of such support is worth celebration:

  • 15 Scholars received 100 acceptances to 76 colleges and universities in 21 states, Washington, DC and Ottawa, Canada
  • 8 of those Scholars attend schools out of state, while 7 of those Scholars attend schools in Pennsylvania
  • 3 attend Ivy League Schools
  • 1 was class valedictorian
  • 2 are the first graduates of the FAME Academy Program
  • 2 were accepted to Historically Black Colleges and Universities
  • 1 competes in NCAA Collegiate athletics
  • 100% of the Scholars received merit scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $60,000+ per year

The story of FAME, FAME Scholars, FAME Parents is one that allows us to journey together from the point of a bottom side rag rug view to the making of a top side beautiful tapestry. The end result being a picture of educational success, and many inspiring success stories.


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