Why is it important to make school contacts?
- Contact with the school allows liaisons to monitor the student's academic performance/behavior at school and identify any potential issues that could affect the host family or school placement. Ongoing communication with the school also ensures that school staff is aware of who to contact in the event of a problem and feel confident in doing so.
- AFS-USA is a member of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, which mandates regular school contact in order to meet member requirements for year and semester programs.
- Contact with schools is essential to building and maintaining a relationship with schools. Strong school relationships are the building blocks for future recruitment in both hosting and sending, as well as fostering AFS-USA’s reputation as a leader in international education
How many school contacts does AFS require to fulfill the CSIET mandate of regular contact with schools for semester and year programs?
- Three contacts (between September-November, December-February, March-May) for year program students and two contacts (between August-November and in December-January) for semester host students.
Who should I contact at the school?
- Before engaging with the school, ask the host parents and/or the hosted student who the best contact would be at the school. It will probably be the school counselor. You can also ask the host parent to send an email to you and the counselor to introduce the two of you.
- If the host parent/student is unaware of the counselor’s name or contact information, you are encouraged to use the school website and look up the counselor that is assigned to your student. Many times, this is designated by section of the alphabet or by grade level. If it is unclear on the website, speak to the counseling secretary who can direct you to the correct counselor. Sometimes there is one counselor that handles all the exchange students.
- If the school counselor is non-responsive to email and phone communication, ask the student and/or host parent to share with you the list of teachers that the student has and you can use the school website to find the email addresses of the teachers to send them an email about how the student is doing in class and if they have any concerns or additional information they would like to share with you. Make sure to explain your role with AFS and relationship to the student when speaking with school staff.
What are some best practices other volunteers have used to successfully complete school contacts?
- Make sure to not overwhelm or pester the counseling staff by calling/emailing many times. If one approach doesn’t work to get a hold of the contact person, then reach out to someone else rather than bombarding the same individual.
- Be upfront about who you are and what your goal is with making contact – Supporting the student. Also, be upfront with acknowledging that you are aware of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) but are trying to ensure that the student is being well taken care of and is being a responsible student at their school. Often, counselors will give a one or two sentence statement about the student regarding positive behavior and academics. If it is something less favorable, they might ask you to reach out to the host family directly as they are not at liberty to share.
- If the school is reluctant to give information to the liaison because s/he is not listed on the PAF, ask the school contact if the person listed on the PAF can give the names of the student liaisons to the school and indicate they are acting in the same capacity – as local coordinators that AFS calls “liaisons,” who have the same DoS certification as the person listed on the PAF.
- Attend a school event with the hosted student. It is not uncommon for teachers and counselors to be present at school events such as sporting and performing arts events. To that end, the student can personally introduce you to some teachers and/or the school counselor. At that point, the school staff has been made personally aware that you are there for the best interest of the student and may be more open to sharing some basic details and/or responding to you when you reach out. Although it would be awkward and inappropriate to ask them about the student at the moment of introduction, it would be appropriate to let them know that they will receive an email from you two or three times that year to check in on the student.
- Ask host families to consider adding the liaison as an emergency contact when registering the student. Doing so may allow the school to speak with the student despite FERPA regulations. Host families and the student might also consider allowing the liaison to have access to the student’s online grade and attendance records.
- Ask the school if the Host Family can give permission for the school to talk to the liaison (listing as the emergency contact may not suffice).
- If the school hosts more than one student, identify a volunteer to make contacts for all students. This could be a Liaison, Liaison Coordinator, Associate Support Coordinator, Support Coordinator, etc. School staff may be more amenable to this as it will save them time and it will help build that person’s relationship with the school
- An October check-in with the school may avert academic problems later.
- Share AFS promotional materials, including sending materials, particularly if there is a new counselor or new school.
- Bring a small thank you gift like cookies to the teacher’s lounge at the end of the year and send a thank you card.
What should I do if the school staff won’t provide me with any information due to privacy laws and/or school policy?
- Enter the contact noting the date that you attempted to make the contact, the name of the person who declined to provide you with any information, and with ratings and comments reflecting your knowledge of the area in question-based on input from the host parent and/or student.
- Note in the General Comments section that you were unable to obtain information from the school staff due to privacy laws and/or school policy and your responses are based on input from the host parent and/or student.
- Ask the school if they are satisfied with AFS support and request time to meet with the school official to explain the role of the Liaison.