Connecting families and building capital: the importance of a supportive environment for culturally diverse families through the transition to formal schooling

Year: 2016

Author: Girdwood, Jill, Thomas, Sue, Kearney, Judith

Type of paper: Refereed paper

For families with children about to commence school, adjusting to the new demands presented can be difficult. For those whose ethnic / cultural heritage differs from that of others in the school community, or who find themselves in a low socio-economic (SES) bracket, there may be extra challenges at that time. Research shows that when schools develop early intervention programs to support families, stress related to transitioning to school can be eased. This paper examines the programs provided by two schools in a culturally diverse, low SES regional area to support their local families in the transition to formal schooling. A different type of program was offered in each school and participants included parents who attended as well as school administrators, program convenors and early-years teachers. The focus of the investigation is the perceptions of both parents and school staff about the impact such programs might have during the time prior to school commencement. A case study design using qualitative methodology gathered data through group and individual interviews from the range of participants. This was supplemented by information from school documents and researcher observations. Data are examined through a Bourdieuian lens to consider the types of cultural and social capital possessed by families and how that was impacted through their experiences as they interacted with other families and school staff through the transition programs. Findings reveal that at both schools, there was an increase in both cultural and social capital. The importance of this to parents was shown in their responses. They spoke of their new familiarity with the school environment and the knowledge gained about curriculum content as positive aspects of their experiences. They also reported that meeting school personnel and other families commencing at the school were of benefit as the relationships formed eased some of the concerns they faced. School staff agreed that these factors were beneficial for both families and the school as children commenced their formal education. The study shows that school programs enable parents to build relationships with other families and school personnel across the school community. They provide opportunities to assist families increase the forms of capital needed in the education environment and the schools are able to ascertain the needs of their communities and better prepare to educate the children as they commence.