Epstein on Family Engagement and Safer Schools

By Andrew Myers

In the second installment of its five-part lecture series exploring strategies and tactics to help make schools safer, the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools welcomed School of Education Professor Joyce Epstein last month for a discussion titled, “The Role of Family Engagement in Promoting Safe and Healthy Schools.”

Epstein directs the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships and is founder of the National Network of Partnership Schools. In her lecture, she highlighted the need for schools and families to become more engaged with one another in the day-to-day goings-on at school in order to improve school safety. Her message was simple: Schools are safer when schools engage families. Even those schools with more behavioral problems can increase their safety levels if they have a really strong partnership program, Epstein says.

“Our first rule for schools is: Know your families,” Epstein says. “Schools will often write off parents that aren’t engaged … but parents care about their kids.”

Epstein’s lecture was the second in the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools lecture series, which is a core part of the center’s new, multifaceted curriculum. The key message for this unit is that schools become safer when they effectively engage families. Epstein is a leading national expert on helping schools build thriving partnerships to engage their communities.

In total, the five lectures are the core teaching units of the School of Education’s safe and healthy schools curriculum, which is woven into the coursework for all students in counseling, teaching preparation, special education, and school administration.

Other events in the series have or will examine the impact of school resource officers, student risk behaviors, and family engagement on school safety and health. As with all School of Education efforts, there is a key emphasis on the effective use of data to improve health and safety. In the first installment, Jonathan Links, John Hopkins’ vice provost and chief risk and compliance officer, presented his research on the COPEWELL community resilience model that is being adapted to the public school setting by CSHS, where it will be known as SchoolWell.

Other scheduled events include a lecture on December 18 by Vanya Jones, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, about risk behaviors that get in the way of sound practices, a January 15, 2020, talk by Sheldon Greenberg, a School of Education professor and former police officer, on the impact of school resource officers on school violence, and a February 20 lecture by Richard Lofton, an assistant professor at the School of Education, on race, place and systemic inequalities.