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As students, families and communities adapt to school in the post pandemic landscape, it is critical to identify families’ concerns relating to their children’s education and overall wellbeing.

To better understand the evolving needs of families, Keep Learning California, a collaborative initiative developed by the non-profits Attendance Works, Families In Schools and Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), conducted a survey and focus groups with families and caregivers in California.

The Keep Learning California Survey Report responses from parents and caregivers point to some areas of recent success for families, such as wider-spread access to high-speed internet, Covid-19 testing and improvements in family-school partnerships. However, the survey also tells us that many impacts from the pandemic linger.

Last spring PIQE conducted phone interviews of 980 families with elementary students in California. The survey, in English and Spanish, focused on five areas: Access to Resources, Areas of Concern, Student Absenteeism, Areas of Support and School Communication. As many as 90% of participants identified their preferred language as Spanish. 65% of participants report annual household income below $39,000.

The survey found that these families believe their students could be more successful in school if they receive more information about after-school opportunities, emotional support, additional learning opportunities and safety procedures. Sixty-eight of those surveyed said that high-quality tutoring is a “high” or “essential” priority, while 69% and 59% identified school counselors and access to bilingual programs, respectively, as priorities for their children’s education and the school community.

hese families are keenly worried about their child’s well-being and safety. Well over half (60%) said they are concerned about gun violence in schools, 54% are concerned about bullying and 52% of families do not have mental health support.

The threats of illness outbreaks, safety concerns, and emotional wellness are preventing these students from attending school, with nearly a quarter of families having children that missed at least two days of school in the month prior to the survey, the families said. The reasons given for absences included short-term illness (48%), while 6% were caused by Covid-19 concerns, 3.3% due to general anxiety, and 2.2% did not attend because of bullying.

One significant and remaining issue highlighted by the pandemic is the clear need to close the digital divide. A full 54% of families do not own their own technology equipment, which is vital to helping students complete homework as well as access additional learning opportunities. At the same time, school communication is increasingly done digitally. Without access to the internet it is challenging for these students to keep up with their peers and families to stay abreast of school events and policies.

Additionally, Families in Schools and Attendance Works conducted three focus groups last summer with families of kindergarten-aged children, in partnership with EdAdvance, to gain a deeper insight into the reasons why their young students were missing school.

A key finding of the focus groups is that families said they need clarity about when students should be in school if they are not feeling well. Many parents said they were confused about when to send their children to school when they were not feeling well.

Most of the families in the focus groups said they are balancing kindergarten attendance with other family priorities. Many felt that, when weighing other family priorities such as caring for other loved ones or figuring out transportation to work and school, it was okay for their kindergartener to miss some days of school.

On the other hand, families with older students expressed differing attitudes toward kindergarten attendance. Those with children who were older than kindergarten age mentioned they have additional support from friends when they need help transporting children to school or when other family situations arise.

While the survey and focus groups clearly point to areas where families are still seeing challenges, the results offer a list of issues we can focus on in our work to support families by ensuring they have access to the resources they need and all students have opportunities to succeed in and out of school.

Read the Family Needs Assessment: Keep Learning California Survey Report, September 2023.

Blog post photo credit: Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

We would like to thank Californians Together, Education Trust West, Public Advocates, the Children’s Partnership and the Heising-Simons Foundation for their collaboration and support for the survey.

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