Frequently Asked Questions

Program FAQs
FAST® Program: What makes the FAST Program special?
  • Family-to-family interaction: FAST brings multiple families together in dynamic groups to build connections. These connections support families at home, in the school, and within their larger community.
  • Learning by doing, not lecture: FAST is an experiential program, where families can learn and practice positive parenting and family behaviors, rooted in practices from child psychology, family therapy, and family stress theory, among others.
  • Parent empowerment: Throughout the program, FAST team members respect and support parents as the leaders and decision-makers of their families. Team members utilize a specific technique to facilitate the session, allowing parents to give direction and instruction to their own family.
  • Cultural adaptation: FAST Teams reflect the local culture, ethnicity, language, gender balance, and socioeconomic status of the families served. Up to 60% of FAST can and should be adapted to fit local priorities and needs.
  • Holistic and systemic impact: By building social capital among families and within the existing social structures of schools and communities, FAST accrues benefits that extend beyond the effects of traditional categorical programs. For example, a community that implements four different programs to reduce school failure, truancy, delinquency, and drug addiction could accomplish the same outcomes with the FAST Program.
  • One of the highest retention rates among similar programs: 80% of families who attend one FAST session will successfully complete the program.
Goals: What are the goals of the program?
At the core of FAST and FASTWORKS are three multi-faceted, level-specific goals that revolve around strengthening family relationships, strengthening feelings of school connectedness, and strengthening community connections to help reduce stress.
FAST Values: What are they?

The FAST Program is values-based. Every person involved in implementing FAST participates in demonstrating and upholding the below underlying values of the program.

  1. Parents are capable of being the primary teachers and nurturers for their own children.
  2. Families are central and critical to children’s educational performance.
  3. Stress and social isolation diminish parental effectiveness; social support increases parental effectiveness.
  4. Trusting relationships support the ability of families to access helping resources.
  5. Policies and practices of organizations should always support and include parents to enhance the parent-child relationship, rather than undercut or isolate the parent from his/her child.
  6. Schools should be welcoming to all families.
  7. Alcohol and drug abuse keeps families from succeeding; prevention, intervention and treatment of the problems of drug misuse increases the family’s ability to succeed.
  8. Collaboration across systems to address the needs of all children is a necessary and important process.
  9. Poverty, racism, and sexism adversely affect children in their development.
  10. All parents love their children and want a better life for them.
History: When was the program first developed?
The FAST Program was developed in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin, by Dr. Lynn McDonald, a professor of social work and education researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Read more about Dr. Lynn McDonald. Families and Schools Together, Inc. was founded in 1999 through her efforts to bring FAST to new communities and has been serving children and families ever since.
Participants: Who does the program serve?
Typically, the FAST Program is hosted at a school and serves children and families who attend that school. An average of 10-12 families participate in the program per cycle. The whole family is invited to attend — not only the student who attends the school where the program is being held but also their parents or other caregivers, siblings, grandparents, and anyone else the family wishes to include.
Setting and Format: Where and how can the program be run?
While a school typically hosts FAST, it can also be adapted to run in different settings, like at a community center, after-school program, or other community-based organization. The traditionally in-person program can also be modified to run in an at-home or virtual format (through the FAST at Home program).
FAST Team: Who leads the program?
The FAST Program is implemented by a trained 4- to 10-person team comprised of local parents, educators (or other school representatives), and mental health and other community-based professionals (varies by level). At the middle and high school levels, teams will also include youth. Each FAST Team is representative of the population served — that is, consistent with the race, ethnicity, culture, and language of the participating families.
Implementation: How do I get started with the program in my community?
The FAST Office is here to help you get started. This will generally involve the following steps:

  1. Contact us to set up a time to speak with us about the details of the program. We can help with a timeline and plan for programming, provide details on start-up logistics, and talk through options for how you can find funding for FAST, if needed. Click here to view/download the FAST Funding Guide.
  2. Assemble your FAST Team with support from out office. We will provide more detail on the team members involved in running the program as well as the responsibilities and expectations for serving in this role.
  3. Receive your team training from one of our certified FAST Trainers. Our experienced trainers will work one-on-one with your site to provide training on the program model so your team is ready to implement the program with families. Trainers follow a Learn-Do-Review process to train teams around the first program cycle; once a team is certified they can run independently. 
  4. Run your FAST Cycle with families gathering together once per week for 8-10 weeks (varies by level). Team members facilitate the weekly sessions, following an agenda of research-based activities. Throughout your first cycle, the trainer will provide ongoing support through site visits to help support the team in their work.
  5. Evaluate your program through pre- and post-program surveys completed by parents/caregivers, teachers, youth (for middle and high school), and team members. Our office provides a report to your site for each cycle which includes program outcomes, parent feedback and perspective, program details, and team input. The report can be shared with the team, the school, and funders as needed.
FASTWORKS®: What happens after graduation/the program concludes?
Post-FAST, families continue to meet on a monthly basis for two (2) years or more through FASTWORKS, a supplemental program that is led by Parent Graduates.

FASTWORKS provides a supportive environment where families can practice the positive skills they learned during the program and have a forum for working together to reach shared goals. It is designed to:

  • unite families and schools to help children succeed;
  • empower parents, teachers, children, and families;
  • enhance a sense of community; and
  • provide a network of knowledge, skills, and understanding.

By taking responsibility for FASTWORKS, parents can act as advocates for themselves and their children, and as leaders in their community and school. FASTWORKS, according to many parent graduates, is where they’re able to work to make their hopes and dreams become realities.

Trainer Certification: How do I become or sponsor a certified FAST Trainer?
There are three steps to becoming a FAST Trainer:

  1. Serve as a FAST team member for a program cycle.
  2. Attend the Training of Trainers conference.
  3. Complete an internship under the mentorship of a trainer supervisor, during which you will guide and evaluate a FAST Team and help prepare them to run a cycle.

Trainers are required to re-certify every three (3) years by attending Training of Trainers to maintain their certification.

Developing a local or “sponsored” trainer for your school can be an effective way to support program sustainability and to help grow and strengthen FAST programs in your community. A Sponsored Trainer is authorized by Families & Schools Together to conduct FAST trainings on behalf of your school or organization as needed for your community.

Institute FAQs
FAST Institute: Why choose the FAST Institute of Family Engagement?
  • Pairing long-standing experience with the latest research: The FAST Institute is based on over 30 years of experience in training and facilitating the FAST Program. The Institute builds on the values of the program while incorporating the latest research on family engagement, such as the Dual-Capacity Framework from Karen Mapp, as well as related research from Anne Henderson, Ann Ishimaru, Anthony Bryk, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Luis Moll, and many others.
  • Focus on equity: One value of FAST is that all parents love their children and want a good life for them, but systemic barriers create environments that discourage engagement from marginalized families. Recognizing the value each family holds and moving away from “it’s always been done this way” to a more equitable, responsive approach can reduce disparities in the classroom and beyond.
  • Blending of sociological, psychological, and educational theories: The institute incorporates social work theories such as Family Systems, Family Stress, and Social Capital, along with the Social Ecological Theory of Child Development, to bring context and understanding to how children interact with and are influenced by their family and community. It also discusses how this can manifest in children’s and families’ interactions with each other and the school.
  • Practical, actionable take-aways: Sessions will provide actionable next steps that educators can take with them and apply in their classroom and in work with families. Discussion of research and theory is always paired with actionable solutions and tools.
Variety and Flexibility: How can the institute meet my school’s needs?

The FAST Institute is designed to help schools and educators deepen their understanding of and practice in family engagement work through individualized coaching and professional development training. We offer a variety of sessions, which schools can elect to host as a series or individually, to best accommodate the busy schedules of their staff.

The institute is flexible to accommodate the needs of educators and can be tailored for teachers, administrators, or family engagement professionals. Virtual or in-person sessions are designed to run 60-90 minutes, and can be scheduled for a time that works best for your staff.

Topics: What sessions are available?
Topics available as part of our 2022-23 offerings include:

  • Introduction to family engagement
  • Creating a welcoming environment
  • Engaging families virtually and other covid-era challenges
  • Empowering families at parent-teacher conferences
  • Strengthening classroom conditions for family engagement
  • Family engagement, advocacy, and power sharing
  • Bridging, race, class and culture and examining implicit bias
  • Collaborating with the community
  • Evaluating and sustaining family engagement practices
Implementation: How do I get started with the institute at my school?
The FAST Office is here to help you get started. This will generally involve the following steps:

  1. Contact us to talk about how the institute can provide training and coaching for your educators and school staff. We can discuss your needs, what schedule works best for you, and create a customized plan to best meet those needs.
  2. For professional development sessions, identify the audience and schedule sessions (virtual) with the FAST Office. For coaching, identify your family engagement team (family engagement liaison/parent coordinator, teacher, administrator) and schedule coaching sessions with the FAST Office.
  3. Optional: Request a readiness assessment and evaluation support to direct your family engagement work and report outcomes, progress, and areas for improvement.
History: When/how was the institute developed?
The FAST Institute was developed and piloted in 2019 in response to the lack of training and support generally available to educators around the work of family engagement. In 2020, COVID not only changed how we offered our trainings (began to offer virtual trainings); it also changed the content. The pandemic exacerbated many longstanding inequities and underscored the crucial importance of family engagement in schools. The challenge remains that many school personnel do not receive proper training in family engagement, yet are often expected to do this work, which, in many communities, has created more opportunities for even deeper divides between families and school staff.
Growth: How has the institute expanded?
In 2022, the FAST Institute was awarded funding through a competitive request for proposals from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This funding allowed us to expand the institute to parent coordinators in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Working with the Family and Community Engagement Department at MPS, we are providing professional development and coaching to 20 schools in the district to ensure they are prepared to engage in meaningful and sustained partnerships with parents in pursuit of educational success for their children.