Learning Matters: Student engagement improves learning, leads to happier lives

On Sept. 28, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2878, a bill sponsored by the California State PTA, to add family engagement as one of the priorities that must be addressed in school districts’ Local Control and Accountability Plans.

As stated in an email from CAPTA announcing the bill’s adoption, “Research demonstrates that when schools practice authentic family engagement, absenteeism is reduced, dropout rates decrease and student achievement and graduation rates go up.”


The PTA has been promoting engagement since the national organization was founded in 1897 by a group of women determined to improve children’s lives.

As it reads now, the mission of the PTA is “to positively impact the lives of all children and families.” Family engagement and public engagement appear as two of the organization’s main purposes:


— “To promote the collaboration and engagement of families and educators in the education of children and youth;” and

— “To engage the public in united efforts to secure the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social well-being of all children and youth.”

But the PTA is not alone in encouraging engagement to accomplish its mission. Engagement has become a watchword in many arenas over the last few years. It seems that wherever I go — to school district meetings, nonprofit boards or governmental agencies — engagement is a focus of attention.

Years before the California Department of Education established Local Control and Accountability Plans as its framework for school district budgeting and added family engagement as a priority, educators realized that students learn better when they’re engaged in the lesson, when they become participants in rather than recipients of learning.

Teacher education and staff development programs began retooling teaching practices to encourage student engagement.

In the nonprofit world, where boards of directors must continually seek funding to support their organization’s missions, funders want to know how the nonprofit’s board members are personally engaged in the mission.

Are they contributing financially? Are they contributing their time and talents?

Funders know their support will be better used by an actively engaged board.

For the annual LCAP process, school districts across the state have starting holding town hall meetings, inviting parents and community members to weigh in on district plans.

In Glendale Unified, district officials are providing dinner, child care and translators to encourage participation.

In similar fashion, California’s 46 Workforce Development Boards are in the process of modifying their plans. With a mission to “transform lives, businesses and our community through innovative workforce services,” the local Verdugo Workforce Development Board, serving Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada, has started a series of five stakeholder and community forums designed to share information and gather input about employment issues faced by community members.

Each forum is focused on one of the populations considered most in need of job development services: individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; English language learners, Cal Fresh customers (formerly known as food stamp recipients) and non-custodial parents.

I’ve learned through my years in PTA, on the board of education and on nonprofit boards that community engagement doesn’t come easily, especially for individuals most in need of services.

For parents struggling with two or more jobs, needing help with childcare or eldercare, or lacking transportation— coming to a meeting isn’t on the radar. Even for the rest of us, stressed already with work and other obligations, going to a meeting may not be an appealing choice.

But two gatherings this past week have given cause for encouragement.

At the school district’s first LCAP meeting of the year, I saw the board room filled to capacity with parents and educators, talking about student achievement.

Then at the Verdugo Workforce Development Board’s “Diversability Event,” another capacity crowd made up of service providers and individuals with disabilities learned about the increasingly available opportunities for supportive employment.

If the participants in those meetings tell the people they know — those who couldn’t come — about the opportunities available to them, engagement will increase and, with engagement, there will be better learning and a chance for happier lives.

For information on upcoming school district or workforce meetings, visit or Find PTA information at

Thank you, PTA, for being an early encourager of engagement. I believe my PTA membership expires at the end of the month, so I’ll be renewing “to positively impact the lives of children and families.”

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at