Harrison Hill Part 2: Unparalleled Family Engagement

This is part two of a three-part series to tell you about a unique elementary school, nestled in Lawrence: Harrison Hill School.  That part of Lawrence is economically depressed, and its residents frequently struggle with poverty and the challenges that go with it.  Thanks to Community Liaison Neal Gore, family engagement is front and center at Harrison Hill, and that engagement has enabled the school to teach families healthy habits regarding nutrition and physical activity on a collaborative scale that we at Jump IN haven’t seen at any other schools.   Neal is interested in not only creating a healthy school, he’s also trying to create a healthier neighborhood.   

Families at Harrison Hill participate in evening activities together

He’s doing it by opening up the school outside of school hours and invited families to participate in dozens of different activities for Family Engagement Nights. He calls this part of his job, “my most fun thing!”  Family Engagement nights are six-week-long sessions that happen four times a year.  The school is in its fourth year of offering them and on any given Family Engagement night as many as a hundred people might be participating. These are free, and they include a sit-down dinner with the other families, sponsored by Chef Suzanne (Neal has calculated that she has donated more than 10,000 meals over the last four years – wow!).  Families sign up by selecting which session they’re going to attend.  During a Family Engagement night series, as many as 16 different options are offered.  The family signs up for one of the selections, which range from theater classes to basketball clinics to martial arts to nutrition and physical activity classes to “Fort Harrison State Park Family Nights” where the group hikes and learns about nature.  A family enrolls to participate as a family.  In some cases, three generations are doing the activities side by side. These Family Engagement series have nearly 50% of the families who attend the school participating. These Family Engagement nights help families do interesting and fun activities together with other families in their community, and they learn new skills, new hobbies, and new tools for helping their families be healthy and successful that they can incorporate into their day-to-day lives.  Family Engagement nights connect families to each other, to the school, and help foster a deeper community connection. 

Harrison Hill is part of Jump IN’s community demonstration project that’s competing in the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge. Jump IN is very grateful to the many partners in Greater Lawrence and the Far Eastside that we’re working with and will continue this work long after the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge is over.  The work is important, and we are dedicated to helping all residents have access to living a healthy lifestyle so that we can reduce childhood obesity and the dangerous health problems associated with it.  More information about the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge can be found here.   More information about Jump IN and our programs can be found at www.JumpINforHealthyKids.org.

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