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Tuesday, 29 September 2015 15:17

Think You Know What Families Want? Think Again

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How many programs are built with the best of intentions but don't deliver what participants need? How many times do we offer opportunities for families that we think they need and are disappointed because turnout is low?

Family 1I'm sharing one of our works-in-progress at Techbridge. We know how important participation in summer opportunities can be and want to do more than address summer learning loss. We want the girls in Techbridge to develop talents and explore new interests in STEM over the summer, which is why we actively encourage every girl to participate in at least one summer program. We have tried a number of strategies to support families to reach this goal, including identifying summer programs and offering workshops to help parents complete applications. This year we offered support for transportation to our summer academy. We were surprised when families didn't take us up on this offer, which we thought would address the barrier to their daughters' participation. We hadn't considered that a ride service might not be an option or that transportation wasn't the reason holding girls back.

Our lesson learned is that we don't know what we don't know about supporting families. This year, we are working to engineer a new model of family engagement. We are bringing girls and their families to the table to learn what they want and understand what resources will be helpful (or not). We are grateful to the Clorox Foundation that is investing in the potential of this approach for working and learning with families.

Our ultimate goal is to empower families – knowing that every parent can make a difference. We have seen from our own experience that the encouragement girls get from their families deeply influences their participation in our after-school programs and their access to other opportunities. We have heard from some parents that they don't feel qualified to advise their children. One father expressed concern that he could not help his daughter because he hadn't gone to college and didn't have fluency in English. I knew that he was making a difference. He took time off from work and rearranged his schedule to drive his daughter, which made it possible for her to participate in Techbridge. We want to empower parents like this father, and help them understand how they are making an importance difference. We also want to partner with them to provide support that will be most helpful and accessible to their interests and needs.

As we build our programs, let's be mindful and invite kids and families to the table – not ours, theirs. We need to meet them where they are comfortable, and listen to what they want and need. I've learned that we can't assume that we have the answers. We can't even assume we know the right questions to ask. But together we can learn from and with the youth and families in our communities.

Stay tuned for what develops from our work. I invite you to check in with Techbridge next summer to see what we have learned. We look forward to sharing with you new ideas for family engagement that will be informed and shaped by parents and girls.

For breakfast I had a breakfast burrito at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park in Oakland, across the street from the Techbridge office. This is my last blog for the BOOST Breakfast Club. I am stepping down from my role as CEO and Executive Director at Techbridge in December. I am fortunate to have had a dream job that has been my life's calling. Over the past 15 years I have come to work each day eager to lead and learn with a team that is as passionate about equity and making a difference in the world as I am. As for what's next? I look forward to taking time off to relax with family and friends and explore options for what my "next chapter" will be.

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Linda Kekelis

Executive Director
Oakland, CA


Linda Kekelis is Executive Director of Techbridge, a program that inspires girls in science, technology, and engineering.  With over 20 years’ experience designing and leading girls’ programs, Linda participates in advisory boards, collaborates with girl-serving organizations, and works with professional groups and corporate partners to promote females’ participation in science, technology, and engineering.  She conducts research, participates in national conferences, and writes, translating research into practical applications for educators, professionals, and parents. She has a doctorate in special education from the University of California, Berkeley.



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