FAST at Home: Staying Connected and Engaging Families During Crisis

July 30, 2020

Catch up on Coffee Break with Toni: A conversation about staying connected and engaging families during crisis with Marilyn Ruffin, Director of Family & Community Initiatives at One City Schools! Click here to watch the recording of the webinar.

Significant relationships with adults are a key protective factor for children during times of crisis, according to FAST’s conversation with Dr. Marlene Melzer-Lange, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin, about toxic stress and its effects on family dynamics. For many children and families, school may be a critical space for developing significant relationships – a place where bonds are formed between students and teachers, families are connected with one another, and parents are introduced to school staff and community members.

The FAST Program helps to build those protective factors for children and strengthens the relationships (family, school, community) that play a significant role in their lives. Traditionally offered as an after-school program, over the course of 8-10 weekly evening sessions, FAST promotes stronger relationships and builds social capital through a variety of family-friendly, research-backed activities. This spring, as the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to adapt to an online format, the FAST Program also adapted by transitioning to an at-home setting.

School closures, social distancing, and quarantine may have disrupted our normal lives, but FAST Teams found creative ways to stay connected and maintain contact with families participating in the program, including weekly phone calls, check-in surveys, Zoom meetings, drive-by parades, activity kits, Facebook groups, and by providing a variety of supports.

While each program responded differently to the circumstances, Families & Schools Together has been working to identify the central themes among them and formalizing these themes into an official “FAST at Home” program. FAST at Home, which will be offered this fall, shares the guiding principles, values, and core components of the traditional FAST program, and incorporates feedback from successful at-home graduates and teams. This new program will also prioritize flexibility, as we recognize that schools, communities, and families will be facing varying circumstances.

FAST at Home testimonials from…

…One City Schools in Madison, Wisconsin (funded by United Way)

The FAST Team at One City Schools provided support for families by staying in constant contact through phone calls, Zoom, and a Facebook group, said team member Ms. Marilyn Ruffin. The school also provided financial, technological, and meal assistance and resources to families. Ms. Raghi Bah, a FAST graduate and single mom of two young children, shared her positive experience and gratitude for being able to rely on her connections to One City parents and staff when it came to challenges with childcare, technology, education, and employment. “What a great blessing to have the support of my children’s school when I thought all hope was lost, since I was in jeopardy of losing my job. It’s mind blowing – the fact that the One City team is always on roller skates for their students and families,” said Ms. Bah. 

…Family Service San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas

At Family Service San Antonio, the FAST Team found creative, fun, and inexpensive ways to keep families engaged, including creating resources that team members dropped off at families’ houses (while maintaining social distancing guidelines). One highlight shared was a FASTWORKS movie night. Overall, the team and families’ experiences completing FAST at Home can be best summarized in pictures, which were shared by team members Ms. Leila Abraham Muzquz and Ms. Ilse Lopez Sandoval.


…Indian Community School in Franklin, Wisconsin

Ms. Shelly Cornelius-Roman, a FAST Team Member at Indian Community School, said the shift to an at-home setting was “challenging but inspiring.” Six families participating in FAST at the time of the transition expressed interest in continuing the program online, so the FAST Team got to work. “The list of things to do and questions we had seemed huge,” Ms. Cornelius-Roman said, but the team learned new technology, developed a comprehensive transition plan, and divided up responsibilities to ensure that these families could successfully graduate from the program. She also shared five lessons the team learned from the experience:

  1. A small group of inspired people can make things happen.
  2. FAST programming is so flexible, virtual FAST is possible.
  3. Online conversations that support families are beneficial to all. In the youth group kids hadn’t seen or spoken with each other in quite a while. We allowed them to have social conversation with each other as part of our group.
  4. Graduation that includes an awesome team, school administration, graduation meals, gifts and door to door front yard family visits is a great way to spend an evening. Families were so happy with the visits, pictures were snapped and gifts were even given to FAST team members.
  5. We have much to learn and improve, but we are happy we had this experience.

…Western Community Health Resources in Chadron, Nebraska

The FAST Team at Western Community Health Resources switched to an at-home, virtual format during the sixth week of the program with 18 participating families. The team used surveys to get input from families to determine how they could best support them when it came to scheduling FAST sessions, planning graduation, and putting together Special Play boxes. One parent shared that her family chose to do 15 minutes of Special Play every night after they received their at-home Special Play box from the FAST Team because they thought that time together was important. Additionally, team member Ms. Dina Kubo noticed a significant positive change among parents, specifically, after Parent Group moved to an online format — parents who were quiet during in-person FAST “came out of their shell,” said Ms. Kubo. “I do not know if it was because they were more comfortable being in their own home of if they had just become comfortable with the group, but there was an amazing transformation for some of these families.

…Milwaukee Public Schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Mr. Kevin Curley, FAST Team Member at Milwaukee Public Schools, was impressed by the FAST Team during the transition to remote learning. “I very much appreciated the adaptability and ingenuity of the FAST Team. They were able to quickly develop a virtual format for FAST that was invaluable to our families. Stress and social isolation are a real challenge for many parents, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The support and connection offered to parents by the virtual FAST program no doubt made a significant impact.”