Strengthening Family and School Partnership at Sunnycrest Elementary

Kelley Schottle is the Principal at Sunnycrest Elementary in the Federal Way, WA, School District. In the summer of 2023, Schottle participated, along with half of her school staff, in the BELONG Partners workshop Rooted Relationships: Growing Equitable Classroom Communities workshop. After taking that workshop, Schottle was interested in other components of the BELONG Partners approach. She wanted to amplify authentic family partnership and voice within their school community and had a clear vision for how to do so.

“One of our goals this year has been to strengthen two-way partnerships with families. While this is a desire of many of our staff, the tangible know-how and the ability to overcome some hesitation has been an ongoing challenge at times. Thanks to our work this year with BELONG Partners, our staff is finding the strategies and opportunities to know our families at a much deeper level. Having a third party facilitate opportunities for our team and community to gather and connect has been extremely meaningful.”

Inspired by Schottle’s vision of partnering with the families in the school community, we secured grant funding from the Stolte Family Foundation to support two components:  professional development and coaching for staff, and a program called Legacies of Love that will boost family partnership and voice.  

Legacies of Love

BELONG Partners staff with Heidi Stolte, Brianna Jackson (Stolte Family Foundation), and Regina Elmi (SPEB) at the Legacies of Love event.

Legacies of Love is a collaborative initiative between BELONG Partners, Supporting Partnerships in Education and Beyond (SPEB), and Dr. Debra Sullivan. The program was originally developed in response to requests from Black families and other families of color in the Renton School District for culturally relevant and accessible workshops. It has evolved into a responsive structure for community engagement and empowerment.

We held a Legacies of Love session in the Appian Way Apartments Community Room, in order to make attending convenient for families and to remove barriers such as transportation needs. Kirsten Encinas, Family Liaison at Sunnycrest, led the outreach efforts to families, making connections and ironing out logistical details. The team appreciated the support of Delaney Wright, the Appian Way Youth Initiatives School Liaison who helped coordinate details and supervise childcare along with resident high school students.

Forming Connections Among Families and School Staff

Fifty families joined Legacies of Love at the Appian Way apartments on April 15th. Our engaging session began with breaking bread together. Families were able to enjoy a meal and connect with each other through discussion questions. Staff from Sunnycrest listened and learned about their students’ families and shared their own stories. Together, Regina Elmi (SPEB), Roshaé Lowe and Stacy Lappin (BELONG Partners), and Dr. Debra Sullivan (on video), supported by dynamic Spanish and Dari/Pashto language interpreters, created space for the community to explore the nature of discipline and our hopes and dreams for our kids.

Even after the formal session ended, the spirit of connection continued as families stayed in the community room sharing stories, asking questions, seeking support for challenges, and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to come together in a meaningful way. One parent shared, “[I’m] more confident that our children are in the right place.” 70% of surveyed families at the end of the workshop reported feeling a deeper sense of connection to the school community.

There was overwhelming interest from families to create more opportunities to learn together. One parent shared on the survey that they would like even “[m]ore programs/sessions that give education to the family, so that I can have all the experiences (good and bad) to know what to do and not do.”

As Principal Schottle describes,

“Our stronger collaboration with families this year could not have happened without the support of BELONG Partners, who truly helped us to foster better partnerships with the families of our kids so that they may all increase their sense of belonging in our school.”

The Legacies of Love Team from BELONG Partners, SPEB, and Dr. Sullivan are inspired by the Sunnycrest community and look forward to learning and growing with them this spring.