As part of a three-year grant project, Milwaukee-based non-profit SET Ministry celebrates graduation milestones using Families & Schools Together, Inc.’s FAST® Program at Auer Avenue Elementary School.
The FAST Program constitutes weekly sessions and activities that aim to build cohesiveness and provide opportunities for parents to strengthen their role in the family.
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.”
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.”