Martha Didden (right), and other parents get to know fourth-grader teacher Bea Lazar (left) during a meet and greet session for parents at Fields Road Elementary School in Gaithersburg on Oct. 13.
Like most schools, Fields Road Elementary hosts an open house each fall to invite families of their students to observe in the classroom, but this year the Gaithersburg school took the event one step further.
For the first time ever, the school’s open house featured Meet and Mingle, a new addition that gave parents and teachers the opportunity to informally chat and get to know each other on a more personal level.
The idea for Meet and Mingle stemmed from feedback that came out of a recent school study circle. The group, which comprised school staff members and parents, met for several weeks last spring to discuss how the school could be made better for all children.
“What we heard from [parents] was that if they could have an opportunity to know their child’s teacher on a more personal level, it would break down barriers and open communication,” said Teresa Brewer, a fourth grade teacher at the school and a participant of the study circle.
As a result, a 40-minute time period was set aside for each grade level to give teachers and parents the chance to chat in a friendly environment and build an open, comfortable relationship. The meet and greet took place during the teachers’ planning period.
Kathryn S. Rupp, the school principal, said a major focus for the staff was to make the parents feel welcomed and included. In anticipation of Meet and Mingle, all of the teachers personally called their students’ parents to invite them to the event, Rupp said. There was also a staff member stationed at the school’s front door to greet parents as they walked in.
At each Meet and Mingle session, the teachers of that particular grade level began by asking the group of parents some general questions — such as “Have you ever lived overseas for more than a year” and “Have you ever sung karaoke?” — to break the ice and learn more about each other. Then each of the teachers split up and formed a smaller group with all of their students’ parents.
During the fourth grade session, teacher Sandy Brisbane talked with her group about her family, teaching history and personal interests. Brisbane also fielded questions from parents about various topics including the new Common Core curriculum, the class workload, homework and her method of discipline.
At the end, the entire fourth grade group reconvened to participate in a raffle for door prizes and complete a short survey about the new event.
Nearly 200 parents attended the Meet and Mingle portion of the open house, according to Rupp, and almost all of them gave it a positive review.
“Only about two people said this didn’t work for them. Everyone else has been thrilled,” Rupp said at the event.
Stephanie Epstein, a parent who has two children at the school, said she liked that Fields Road was using a method of “very interactive engagement” to have parents and teachers connect to create a stronger community.
Bing Zhao, a parent whose child is in fourth grade, said he was excited about the event because it gave parents the chance not only to bond with the teachers, but also with fellow parents.
“It’s a good opportunity to get to know other parents,” he said.
Mike Weil, another parent of a fourth-grade student, agreed with Zhao and said that the icebreaker allowed him to learn even more about teachers and parents that he already knew.
In the end, fourth-grade teacher and study circle participant Bea Lazar said the Meet and Mingle event helped participants to realize that even in a diverse school community, teachers and parents alike share common qualities and experiences.
“It gives you a feeling that we’re all parents. We’re all people,” she said.