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Edge: Partnerships play key role helping students of color

Dana Griffin cover image

The following article is from the Fall 2020 issue of Edge: Carolina Education Review.

Researcher: Dana Griffin

Educators, and especially school counselors, can help Black, Latinx, and other students of color overcome educational opportunity gaps by developing and sustaining meaningful and effective partnerships between schools, families, and communities.

The Edge
Black, Latinx, and other students of color have long faced gaps in educational opportunity, gaps that have resulted in lower rates of academic achievement when compared to White students. Educational researchers have identified that strong partnerships between schools, families, and communities can help bridge the opportunity gaps faced by students from minority populations. Dana Griffin, associate professor of school counseling, has conducted research on school-family-community partnerships, promoting a series of strategies through which educators can establish effective collaborations that support academic achievement among marginalized students.

Research, including work by Dana Griffin, associate professor of school counseling at the UNC School of Education, has demonstrated that greater levels of parent and family involvement in schools supports greater academic success among those schools’ students. School counseling research has examined school-family-community partnerships, a 20-year body of work that has outlined the benefits of these collaborations. The American School Counselor Association’s National Model makes it clear that building partnerships is a vital role for school counselors.
Griffin advocates for a need to consolidate and synthesize a variety of approaches and practices into a school-family-community partnership building process that is effective at helping address the opportunity gaps faced by students of color.

For many families who have concerns or questions about schooling, school counselors serve as an early point of contact. School counselors serve as bridges to the school for these families and other community members, often playing the role of cultural brokers and liaisons to connect families to needed services within schools.

School counselors are often encouraged — by their principals, by research findings, and by ASCA — to develop partnerships that can sustain the bridge-building work. Despite the importance of developing partnerships, only about 40% of school counselors report being involved in that work. School counselors are often overwhelmed by non-counseling tasks and responsibilities, having little time to devote to building partnerships.

However, school administrators, policymakers, and educators need to recognize that school-family-community partnerships can empower marginalized students and families, creating social capital that can be used to solve problems and foster students’ educational success, Griffin says.

Discussions about family involvement should be expanded to provide explicit acknowledgement and understanding of how marginalized parents and family members are already involved in their children’s education. With this understanding, educators and counselors can shift away from a deficit perspective of parents’ interest and involvement in their children’s education to an appreciation for the ways in which they contribute to their children.


It’s vitally important that given the increasing diversity of schools that any school-family-community partnership has a focus on equity and a social justice approach to collaboration. School counseling research points to several critical strategies and roles for school counselors who wish to build partnerships that empower marginalized students and family members (Bryan, J., Griffin, D., et al., 2019).

Lead school personnel in using culturally congruent, nontraditional partnership strategies. School counselors can play the leading role in implementing culturally appropriate strategies to reach and engage marginalized families and communities. For an example, partnerships with Black families work best when school counselors incorporate empowerment principles and outreach, embedding the partnership with Black community members who can serve as cultural brokers or interpreters. These principles also apply for other types of communities, such as Latinx ones.

Serve as advocates and empowerment agents for marginalized families. School counselors can serve as advocates and empowerment agents for low-income, minority, or other marginalized families and students whose voices often go unheard in schools. For example, research has identified the need for school counselors working with Latinx students and families to function as advocates with school personnel to help them understand Latinx families’ perspectives and create environments where their concerns are heard.

Build relationships with cultural brokers/interpreters. Building relationships with individuals who can serve as cultural brokers and/or interpreters is a key strategy for school counselors seeking to build partnerships.

Promote cross-cultural trust in school-family-community relationships. Given their training in multicultural counseling and collaboration, school counselors understand how oppression and racism affect students and their families. School counselors can play a key role in building understanding among other school personnel, a precursor to building cross-cultural trust between schools and families. Encouraging teachers and other school personnel to address their biases, understand white privilege, and dismantle white supremacy, as well as to see families through empowerment and strengths-based lenses can help them create and sustain a more welcoming and inclusive school culture.


For school counselors to be effective in building effective partnerships, counselor-education programs must provide training on how to do so. Collaboration and partnership-building knowledge and skills should be more fully incorporated into school counselor training programs. Educator preparation programs should begin work within all training programs — for future teachers, administrators, and policymakers — so that they all appreciate the benefits of effective partnerships and can learn how to collaborate.

That training will also convey to pre-service educators and other stakeholders the value of partnerships, and the need to provide time and resources for school counselors to build those partnerships.

Further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of partnerships, especially on how they can support students and families of color. It is imperative that to overcome the challenges students of color face, schools must work more effectively with families and communities to create equitable practices and provide expanded opportunities for all students.


Arriero, E., Griffin, D. (2019) ¡Adelante! A community asset mapping approach to increase college and career readiness for rural Latinx high school students. Professional School Counseling. Vol. 22(1): 1-9.

Bryan, J., Griffin, D., Kim, J., Griffin, D. M., & Young, A. (2019) School counselor leadership in school-family-community partnerships: An equity-focused partnership process model for moving the field forward (pp. 265-287). In S. Sheldon, and T. Turner-Vorbeck (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook on Family, School, and Community Relationships in Education. Hoboken, NY: Wiley.

Bryan, J., & Henry, L. (2012). A model for building school-family-community partnerships: Principles and process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90, 408-420.

Bryan, J., Williams, J. M., & Griffin, D. (2020). Fostering educational resilience and opportunities in urban schools through equity-focused school-family-community partnerships. Professional School Counseling, 23, 1-14.

Griffin, D., & Farris, A. (2010). School counselors and school-family-community collaboration: Finding resources through community asset mapping. Professional School Counseling, 13, 248-256.

Griffin, D., Williams, J. M., & Bryan, J. (2020, accepted). School-family-community partnerships for educational access and equity for Black male students. Professional School Counseling.