Scholastic Professional

How to Host a Successful K–2 Family Engagement Event

 //  Mar 14, 2019

How to Host a Successful K–2 Family Engagement Event

Ellen Lewis is a co-author of The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention.

Parental involvement in the literacy development of their children is essential. This is true for all children, not just those who strive with their literacy skills.

In my book with Jan Richardson, The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention, we share an approach for including K–2 families in literacy learning with a fun and purposeful after-school event called RISE With Literacy (RWL).

One of the most important factors for involving families is welcoming them as partners in the education experience. RWL builds strong partnerships between families and schools that help to foster a community spirit of literacy. When parents come together and learn how to use reading strategies at home with their children, they become deeper partners in the learning process. In effect, RWL builds capacity for learning from the classroom to the home by empowering families and giving them the tools they need to read together.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to participate in a RWL event at Gulfport Montessori Elementary School located in Pinellas County, Florida. Gulfport MES has 645 students in grades PreK–5, 35 K–2 classrooms, and it is a Title I school with 100% of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch.

The school is a haven of learning and support for the community, led by a talented and dedicated staff including Principal Jessley Hathaway and Assistant Principal Dr. Neala Jackson, with Title I MTSS Coach Jesstina Bushery. They are implementing Jan Richardson’s guided reading theory and practice in the classroom, with the RISE and RISE Up frameworks as the primary literacy intervention.

The results of their work have been stunning as the school has experienced tremendous success. Diagnostic reading test data from January 2019 has showed the school closing the achievement gap. Currently the number of students in Tier 3 who need the most intensive interventions and support has dropped from 32% to 21%.  Students in Tier 2 who need moderately intensive interventions and support have gone from 44% to 54%, and on grade level students are now at 34% compared to 14% in the fall.   

A RWL event was the perfect next step to build parent-school capacity.

MTSS Coach Jesstina Bushery meticulously planned the RWL event with the school’s K–2 staff and administration. Teachers from each grade level volunteered to host the literacy sessions, and they strategically chose reading strategies that had been previously introduced in the classroom.

Two weeks before the event, Jesstina sent home invitations in backpacks, followed by a reminder one week later.  Jesstina stressed that the whole family was invited to attend the one-hour event. The day before the event, a prerecorded phone call went out to all families with students in grades K–2 encouraging them to attend with a special mention that all children would receive a free book and a literacy tip to use at home.   

On the day of the event, all K–2 students left school wearing a Take Me to RISE With Literacy Tonight at 5:30 p.m.! sticker.

We convened as a whole group in the cafeteria and waited to see how many families would come. By 5:30 p.m. the cafeteria was full with more than 200 people waiting to hear our short presentation. We emphasized that they are their children’s first teachers and we as educators need to partner with them in order to help our students succeed. We then led the families by grade level to find their way to a designated classroom.

In the Kindergarten classroom, Mrs. Hitchens modeled the Stop, Think, and Paraphrase strategy, and within minutes parents were trying this with their children as we mingled and supported them. In first grade Ms. Welch had a packed room of families working on the Fix-Up strategy, and in second grade Ms. Gray had parents and students practice the Five Finger Retell strategy.  In every room, students were showing their parents how to use the strategy. The parents were engaged and enthusiastically learning how to take this knowledge home and work with their children.

After the 20 minute strategy sessions, everyone returned to the cafeteria armed with their new strategy learnings, a free book—and ready to enjoy a slice of pizza

Jesstina said, “It was absolutely incredible to see how many families attended the event.  I had several parents stop to say thank you and how informational the evening was. One comment I heard as a parent was listening to her child read was “How do you know that is a banana?”  To hear the parent take the exact strategy taught and apply it was a highlight of my night.  In that moment, I knew we left parents with tools that allowed them to feel confident in their ability to help their children in becoming proficient readers.”

Principal Jessley Hathaway said, “The RISE With Literacy event at Gulfport Elementary was outstanding because it supported our school’s message of literacy both at school and at home. The RISE intervention is a great success here, and RISE With Literacy simply helped transfer those successful literacy strategies to our parents. Our families found it engaging and informative.  We will continue to implement the events, and could not be more pleased with the outcomes of RISE and RISE With Literacy.”       

The Gulfport RWL event is a terrific example of how to empower parents with information and resources to work with their children on lifelong literacy skills. Family engagement with purposeful learning opportunities benefits the entire school and community, and RWL is a way to achieve this for all.

For more information about steps and resources for hosting your own RWL event including a template letter to families, a sample script for calling home with event reminders, a presentation that can be tailored to the needs of your school, and more, visit

Gulfport Montessori Elementary School