Communication between school, students and parents

[Individual articles from the Summer 2019 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

“To work in education effectively and successfully, one cannot work alone,” says Esther Pierre, principal of Fodation Œcumenique pour la Paix et la Justice (FOPJ), an MCC-supported school located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. For Pierre, success in education is the result of three key groups—school staff, students and parents—working together. “In Haiti, we have a proverb that says, ‘If you balance a pot on three rocks to cook, but one of the rocks is missing, the pot will never boil.’ This is why it is important for the school staff to work hand-in-hand with the students and their families to be successful.”

The Haitian education system faces unique challenges. With 85% of schools being run by non-state actors such as non-governmental organizations, churches and private organizations, Haitian families face high tuition costs (USAID, 2017). The average cost per student for primary school is US$154/year, which amounts to 21% of the average GDP per capita in Haiti (World Bank, 2015). For many families in Port-au-Prince slums, this represents an insurmountable cost.

FOPJ, located in the slum of Kafou Fey on the southern outskirts of Port-au-Prince, provides primary education to local students at no cost or for a small fee, based on family income. Kafou Fey is often considered one of the most violent neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, facing high rates of gang activity. One-fourth of the FOPJ’s students are classified as restaveks (vulnerable young children, most frequently girls, from the countryside sent to live with family in the city to perform domestic labor in return for lodging, food and school), while another half of the students are children being raised by a single parent.

Within a challenging context, Pierre and her colleagues at FOPJ have found creative ways to actively engage parents in the school, with the aim of supporting students’ academic and personal success. In Pierre’s experience, there are four primary ways to facilitate the engagement of parents and students: school committees; effective communication; personal relationships; and parent meetings.

While parents at FOPJ do not have disposable income to donate to the school, Pierre encourages them to join committees which allow them to be involved with school activities such as clean-up days, organizing special events, gardening and recruitment of new students. These committees offer parents opportunities to give back as well as see the inner workings of the school, in turn giving them more confidence in the quality of education their children are receiving. “If they have confidence in what you are doing, you can encourage them to become a part of the school,” Pierre observes. School committees have succeeded in attracting parental involvement: participating parents encourage and recruit parents of new students to join committees.

FOPJ’s director and staff have found that maintaining effective communication not only with students, but with parents as well, is vital to foster parental engagement. Communication with parents should include updates about students’ academic performance, behavior and attitude towards others. Pierre believes that by practicing open and honest communication, school administrators create a learning environment in which parents and students can share questions, concerns and needs. “The director must learn to listen to the parents and children regarding the relationships that exist within the home, and keep that information confidential,” Pierre maintains. When parents are informed about what their children are learning and feel included in their children’s education, they are more deeply invested in seeing their child succeed and in supporting the school.

For Pierre, her job includes more than an interest in the academic success of her students. Understanding that turmoil within the personal life of a student can manifest itself through poor behavior or academic achievement, Pierre makes a point of forming personal relationships with students and parents in order to build trust and offer assistance when able. “People think that in order to have a relationship you need money or status, but if you consider everyone a person, you can have a relationship with all,” notes Pierre. “If I see that there is something troubling in the home of a student, I address it after I form a relationship with the parent and student, not before. When I am building a relationship with them, I just want to ensure that they know they have value.”

As a result of the strong relationships Pierre has formed with parents, she has found success in planning parent meetings as a way of updating the parents on school events and student activities and reinforcing the importance of their children’s education. Despite parents at FOPJ often working long hours to provide for their families, many parents still place high priority on attending the meetings. Even if a parent is unable to attend, Pierre remarks that they often pass by the school as soon as possible to receive the information shared at the meeting. These meetings require great effort from Pierre and her team, as they spend hours calling parents individually to remind them about the meetings: distributing printed schedules was not successful with the school’s parents, who are predominantly illiterate. Pierre also stresses the importance of having multiple staff and teachers present at the parent meetings. “It is important for them to see we are a team,” says Pierre. “It is not only one person who is doing this work. They need to know that whatever happens, it is the whole team who will respond.”

Engaging parents in the education of their students requires additional time, effort and creativity on the part of school staff. It means taking a holistic approach that considers the academic and personal lives of students, while making meaningful connections with their families.

Alexis Kreiner is assistant representative for MCC Haiti. Esther Pierre serves as principal of Fodation Œcumenique pour la Paix et la Justice (FOPJ) in Port-au-Prince.

Learn more

Avvisati, Fransecso, Bruno Besbas and Nina Guyon. “Parental Involvement in School: Literature Review” Revue D’Économie Politque 120/5 (2010): 759-778. Available at

Islam, Assadul. “Parental Involvement in Education: Evidence from Field Experiments in Development Countries.” Monash Business School Discussion Paper No. 02/17 (2017). Available at publications2/0217parentalislam.pdf.

Lunde, Henriette. “Youth and Education in Haiti: Disincentives, Vulnerabilities and Constraints.” Oslo: Fafo, 2008. Available at

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