Families & Schools Together, SET Ministry Partnership Transforms Struggling Community

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FAST program increases social capital at Auer Avenue School through comprehensive parent engagement.

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The FAST program is designed to inspire family engagement between schools and families.

As part of a three-year grant project funded by Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Milwaukee-based non-profit SET Ministry celebrates graduation milestones using Families & Schools Together, Inc.’s FAST® Program at Auer Avenue Elementary School. In an effort to bring parents and the school together to improve the community through education and collaboration, FAST, a parent engagement program that changes the lives of children by building strong relationships at home, is in year two of its implementation at Auer Avenue Elementary, and has been a catalyst for positive change in the troubled community.

The FAST Program constitutes weekly sessions and activities that build cohesiveness and provide opportunities for parents to strengthen their role in the family. Sessions are led by a team whose purpose is to empower parents and connect families to their school and greater community. Many FAST Teams are composed of former graduates of the program.

Auer Avenue Elementary serves primarily low-income African-American families in a neighborhood that has been deeply impacted by gun-violence, foreclosures and other symptoms of poverty. The school has been at-risk of being reconfigured by Wisconsin legislation into a charter school due to historically failing to meet enrollment goals. Parents, school staff and community leaders have all rallied against this transition with the support of a council established by parents who have graduated from the FAST Program.

“The FAST program is designed to inspire family engagement between schools and families, and we have seen great results at our school,” said Pat Townsend, parent coordinator of Auer Avenue School. “The increased family participation we’re seeing in the school through volunteering and increased attendance at family events has been incredibly beneficial for our school and community. It has been fulfilling to watch family bonds deepen during play and family meals at FAST nights. It is clear that the FAST Program is a valuable addition to our school and community.”

Since launching in the spring of 2014, FAST has completed five eight-week cycles of FAST at Auer Avenue Elementary and is currently in its sixth cycle. With increased graduation rates in each group, the program is now being run by parent graduates of its initial cycles, and holds a retention rate of 80 percent. Though initially launched for parents of Kindergarten students, the program has extended its scope to include parents of students K-5 this year due to growing parent interest and community involvement, and word-of-mouth testimonials.

“We’re located in one of the most segregated neighborhoods in one of the most segregated cities in this nation, and parents have a lack of trust and safety in their community,” said Luke Chojnacki, parent club coordinator at SET Ministry. “SET’s Parent Club is now in its 5th cycle of FAST, and graduate parents have been able to build strong bonds and relationships with one another, regaining that trust in their community and turning to each other for support.”

The graduation ceremony for FAST’s current group of families will take place on December 15, 2015, and will celebrate a projected 94 percent completion rate. For more information about Families & Schools Together and the FAST Program, visit https://www.familiesandschools.org.

About Families & Schools Together
Families & Schools Together, Inc. is a non-profit organization located in Madison, Wisconsin whose mission is the development and worldwide dissemination of the FAST® Program. Founded in 1988 by scientific researcher and Professor of Social Work Dr. Lynn McDonald, the internationally-acclaimed FAST® Program is built on a strong platform of developmental and behavioral science and consistently produces statistically significant improvements in children’s behavior, emotional well-being, and academic performance. FAST® empowers parents to build social capital among schools and communities, and helps them strengthen their role as leaders within the family as well as in the community. By establishing these networks of support, families are more able to actively engage in their child’s education, leading to improved academic and developmental outcomes. To learn more about Families & Schools Together, Inc. and the FAST® Program, visit https://www.familiesandschools.org.

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Aaron Krish
C. Blohm & Associates
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