Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Families and Schools Together

What Is It?

Families and Schools Together (FAST) is a 2-year, school-based, elementary level program which: FAST uses an highly structured activity-based approach to promote the development of school- parent-community-child partnerships. The FAST curriculum is designed to enhance parent-child interactions, empower parents and build parent support groups.

Why Did It Get Started?

The FAST program was developed to address many of the problems faced by elementary schools with significant numbers of students with low achievement. The program was designed around emerging research indicating that partnerships between schools, communities and parents could prevent the school-related performance and behavioral problems of poor children.

Developed in 1988, the FAST program began in the Madison, Wisconsin School District with support from Family Service America, a national organization whose membership includes a large number of community-based counseling and family support agencies. At this time FAST has been implemented in over 250 sites in 26 states. The program can be found in a variety of culturally diverse school communities, and is working in urban inner city as well as isolated, rural schools sites.

How Does It Work?

To join the FAST program, a school must identify and partner with two community-based partner agencies, such as a mental health agency and a substance abuse agency, who agree to work with the school over a period of 2 years. Once the school identifies the partner agencies:

A FAST team of three professionals, one from the school and one from each of the partner agencies, is identified and trained. Training is provided through the Family Services America National Replication Center, which was established to assist communities offer effective FAST programs.
 
Participating children and parents gather once a week for eight sessions, at the school. The eight sessions usually take place around the dinner meal.
 
Following graduation from a FAST cycle, families participate in FASTWORKS, a series of monthly family support meetings designed to maintain the active social network formed between the participating families.

Up to 20 children and their parents can be served during each 8-week FAST cycle and a school can sponsor up to four cycles per school year. Parents who have participated in past FAST cycles often play important roles in facilitating and coaching subsequent FAST cycles at their children's school.

What Are The Costs?

The cost for the initial training for the school and its FAST team is $3,900. The costs of supplies per cycle is $1,500. Additional costs include personnel costs for the community partners at $1,500 each per cycle, and for each of participating parent-partner at $800 each. The school-based member of the FAST team may also require compensation unless this is considered a part of that person's regular workday. There are also child care costs involved. Schools usually fund the program with funds from Title I or other Federal or local sources that target schools with significant populations of poor and low performing students.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

The school administrator, perhaps together with the local site based management team, makes a decision to bring the Fast program to their school.

A decision is made regarding which children to invite as members of the first FAST cycle. There are many ways the screening process can be structured, but frequently teachers identify children with problem behaviors who are at risk for serious academic and social problems.
 
Once the children have been identified, parents are informed of the concern with the child's behavior. The parents are then invited to participate in FAST through a friendly home visit by trained, sensitive, recruiters FAST parent graduates, in most cases. To promote attendance, FAST offers the intangible incentives of respect and social supports as well as tangible ones such as transportation, a hot meal, and child care for toddlers and infants. Each family also wins a gift package of needed items sometime during the 8-week session.
 
Families gather with the other 8 to 12 participating families for 8 sessions at the child's school. Meetings follow a structured, uniform agenda that includes carefully planned opening and closing routines, structured family activities, parent mutual support time, and parent-child play therapy. These are led by a trained team that includes the parent; the school professional, usually a school social worker; a mental health agency representative, usually a clinical social worker; and the substance abuse agency representative, often a substance abuse counselor.
 
The activities at each session are lively and fun and build a sense of family unity. They include eating a meal together, creating a family flag, singing, and lively exercises in communication and feelings identification. The parent-child play therapy, called "Special Play" is at the core of the FAST program. In 15 minutes of uninterrupted quality time, parents play one-on-one with the child in ways that build the child's self-esteem and enhance family communication. The parents are instructed to focus on child-initiated play without directing or criticizing. Parents are encouraged to continue "Special Play" between FAST sessions and over the next 2 years.
 
The multi-family sessions also include time for the children to play together while parents visit about common interests and concerns. During this time parents build an information support network for themselves to help each other discover solutions to parenting and family concerns.
 
At the end of each 8-week FAST cycle, a graduation is held in which the contributions and participation of all participants is celebrated. Invitations are sent and certificates are presented by the school principal. Families pride themselves on being "FAST graduates".

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

Evaluations of FAST at large numbers of schools where it has been implemented, indicate highly positive outcomes for the children who participate in the program. Research has shown that the behavior both at school and at home of participating children improves. Moreover, there is evidence that these positive changes hold 2 years later. Participating schools report that parents who have participated in the program are much more active in school events than they were previously. The program has received a number of national awards, and currently receives implementation funding support from a number of foundations, such as DeWitt Wallace Readers' Digest Fund, Metropolitan Life, and C. S. Mott.

The FAST program is currently operating in extremely isolated rural areas of northern California, northern Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as inner city neighborhoods in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. FAST has also been implemented in school communities with families whose first language is other than English. There are FAST programs serving 100 percent Vietnamese families, Native American families, Hispanic families and African-American families.

Where Can I See It?

For information on how to visit one or more FAST sites contact the developer. There are also a number of videos which portray programs that have been implemented in both rural and inner city school sites.

Whom Do I Contact?

Dr. Lynn McDonald, FAST Program Developer
The FAST Project
Wisconsin Center for Educational Research
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1025 West Johnson Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Telephone: 608-263-9476; Fax: 608-263-6448
E-mail: mrmcdona@facstaff.wisc.edu

The Research Base

The FAST program draws on research from a number of behavioral science disciplines including social work, family therapy, child psychiatry, and child and family psychology. The program also blends in knowledge emerging from research in such other fields as delinquency and substance abuse prevention, domestic and other forms of violence prevention, parent involvement in education and family support. FAST makes use of many ideas, clinical practices and research that have been used successfully for years by social work practitioners.
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