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FAST: Engaging the Community

As I helped the Families and Schools Together (FAST) team to prepare the classroom for the second weekly session, parents were already waiting outside and children were jostling to get in.

New families were arriving, having heard about FAST through their friends and relatives.

Sarah, a teacher at the school and a member of my FAST team, told me that parents had never been so engaged with the school. “FAST is really important for the school and the area,” she said.

FAST has engaged 30 families, including some who haven’t had much contact with the school before.

Sarah and her colleagues were really pleased with the number of families attending, and that some of the children they’ve seen really struggle at school had come.

Unlike many other parenting programmes, FAST is delivered in deprived communities but is open to any local family. This reduces the stigma of participating and encourages families to integrate and support each other.

Many families come to have fun and meet other families, and soon realise that FAST can really have a  lasting benefit for their child.

The families settle in

The afternoon began as every FAST session does – with food.

The family who won the hamper last week were cooking and they had made a healthy feast for everyone on a tight budget. All the families really enjoyed trying the different rice and curry dishes and the family of cooks were really proud of their meal.

During the meal parents ask one of their children to serve them food first, and then the children serve themselves. This empowers the parents and helps children to obey instructions and be responsible.

For some families this is the only time they eat together; the meal is therefore a really important chance to talk and improve family bonds.

FAST felt calmer than last week as most people now knew what to expect. The children already had some favourite activities and were getting really excited.

After the meal this week the children volunteered to introduce their own family to the group.

FAST is making a difference

Paul is eight years old. His mum, Adriana, came to FAST to help Paul with his maths, as well as his behaviour at school. Every week Adriana normally has to talk to teachers to discuss his behaviour, but last week Paul behaved really well at school.

She was trying to think what she had done differently and realised that it was because of FAST. Paul really enjoyed having rare quality time with his mum, while the FAST team looked after his younger sister.

Adriana told me that Paul was now helping her around the house and had even served her breakfast.

It’s really exciting to see how quickly FAST can make a difference to children’s school work, and everyone in the FAST team can see the impact.

As one team member told me:

“FAST activities are quite simple but there’s a lot of research behind everything we do. I can see the difference when I look at the families.

“And even the families themselves are realising that it’s only the second week but FAST is making a real change.”

All names have been changed to ensure anonymity.

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