This fall, five schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district — Auer Avenue, Keefe Avenue, Hopkins Lloyd, Brown Street Academy, and Engleburg schools — are (virtually) beginning their fifth cycle of the FAST Program. FAST’s partnership with MPS, which began in 2018 with funding from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, is the topic of the next Coffee Break with Toni webinar on Wednesday, October 28, 2020.
One guest who will be featured on the webinar is Ms. Dawn Collins, the Parent Coordinator at Engleburg Elementary School. Ms. Collins is also a member of the FAST Team and has served as the school’s FAST Coordinator for the past three program cycles.
When asked to share her perspective on the FAST/MPS partnership, Ms. Collins described FAST as being a “very positive” experience. She said she has noticed that Engleburg families are more involved with the school, especially when it comes to accessing resources and support. This is because parent participants are made more aware of the resources available to their students, such as meals and textbooks, and are encouraged to take advantage of them through the FAST Program.
“At our school, the parents feel more empowered. A lot of the parents didn’t know what they were so-called ‘allowed’ to do or what they had access to [before FAST],” Ms. Collins said.
FAST Team Members have been able to identify and target families who might be missing out on such opportunities and could particularly benefit from the impacts of the program. These families often later become a key asset in recruitment, Ms. Collins said, as they are able to share their positive experiences with other families.
Ms. Collins noted the benefits and positive impacts of FAST at Engleburg for two program components in particular: Family Meal and Parent Group.
Regarding the Family Meal, Ms. Collins shared a recent testimonial about how one FAST Parent realized she was paying more attention to her baby than her older child. When the pandemic forced the parent to slow down her busy lifestyle, the program’s intentional family meal time provided an opportunity for her to consciously listen to her child and to engage in more in-depth conversation.
As for the Parent Group, Ms. Collins said, “The parent part of it was excellent. I didn’t personally participate in the parent groups, but it was hard to get them out of parent groups because they realized that other parents were experiencing the same things.”
Connections like those made during Parent Group and throughout the eight-week program have proven valuable as Engleburg navigates this period of social isolation and the shift to virtual learning, with FAST Parents reaching out to support each other and re-emphasizing that they are not alone in the challenges they face.
“When we did FAST at home, it gave us an avenue for people to really talk about what they were actually feeling regarding what was going on, not only in the school but the community in general, and how they felt about being alone and home with their kids,” Ms. Collins said.
Overall, FAST has helped Engleburg parents become more “hands-on” involved in the school community, with their children, and with other families, according to Ms. Collins, which were key goals of the partnership. Based on her own experience and from talking with her fellow FAST Coordinators, she said the program has brought more engagement to Milwaukee Public Schools — and has even greater potential.
“I wish it could just be a part of the whole school culture to have a program like FAST because the different aspects of it, like the family meal and connecting with your children, are values and things that we try to bring back into the home.”