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Lynn McDonald Helps Keep Families and Schools Together
A family's interest and support in a child's school work plays an important part in the child's success. The quality of the family's interaction with the school and with other families also plays a role. A program developed by WCER researcher Lynn McDonald is demonstrating, in schools around the country, that family-school relationships can be improved, and that such enhancement helps children succeed in school. Families and Schools Together (FAST) creates structured opportunities for families of elementary school students to participate in repeated, positive, personal experiences with their children in the school setting.
Lynn McDonald developed Families and Schools Together in 1988 with Family Services in Madison (Wis.), a nonprofit mental health agency. Another national organization, Communities in Schools, develops FAST team trainer capacity with funding from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to further disseminate FAST.
McDonald based FAST on research highlighting successful methods of connecting families and schools. At each school the program brings together about a dozen families for 8 to 10 weekly sessions of social activities. The events may seem simple at first, building a family flag, sharing a family meal, singing together, playing communication games, and parent networking. But these activities help the family develop important communication skills. Parents also receive coaching in one-on-one, nonjudgmental, nondirective play therapy with their children.
When families graduate from the FAST program they join a group of families who meet once a month for two years. FASTWORKS groups are managed by graduates of the program, with support from a collaborative team of culturally compatible parents and professionals.
Research into practice
FAST is based on research in family therapy, child psychiatry, community development, group work, and stress and special support. The program has four goals:
And FAST works.
Ongoing research is measuring the effectiveness of FAST implemented specifically for students experiencing difficulties with social interactions or classroom behaviors, for American Indian students ages 5 to 9 years, and for third graders attending inner city schools who are at risk of drug abuse, delinquency, and school failure.
Breadth of impact
In 1990 the state of Wisconsin began encouraging school districts to use FAST and provided $1 million a year in funding. Family Service America, an international social services organization, accelerated expansion of FAST nationwide in 1993, with financial support from the DeWitt-Wallace Reader's Digest Foundation. In a June 1999 training there were FAST trainers from 12 states and 3 countries. Edgewood College, Madison, Wis., offers graduate credits in family therapy for students who participate in FAST team training.
FAST is now used in 34 states and five countries. McDonald is working now to make sure that FAST is adopted in more schools and districts nationwide. Funding for these projects is provided by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Field-Initiated Studies, U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
For more information visit the FAST web site at http://www.wcer.wisc.edu/fast/.