Engage Families 

by Strengthening Relationships

December 6-8, 2017

Bloomington, MN

Middle school years are a time of big change for all kids and their families. New opportunities. New relationships. New challenges. New worries.

It’s easy for families to get disconnected as kids grow and other demands pull families apart. 

As a result, many middle schools, out-of-school-time programs, family service organizations and faith communities and others struggle to engage parents and families meaningfully. As children grow older, research shows parent involvement drops.(2)

Staying connected through big changes

Keeping these relationships strong is important for kids’ success in school and in life.

In reality, there is little evidence that families have lost their power in the lives of children and youth—even though many families do face major challenges (3). 

Families matter for virtually every child and youth outcome. The ways relationships form and develop in families have a tremendous influence on how young people grow up (4). Promoting strong, healthy families creates far-reaching benefits beyond the family itself.

What is Keep Connected?

Keep Connected helps the family engagement gap

We have put together an interactive workshop series called Keep Connected for parents and youth (age 10-14) to help them prepare for the changes they will be facing as they enter into the teen years. Keep Connected is designed for engaging and strengthening parent-youth relationships during the transition into middle school and adolescence. 

This workshop series is facilitated by schools and youth-facing organizations in order to strengthen family engagement, learn keys to positive family relationships and try new ways to stay connected as kids grow up.

Through our research, we know that strong family relationships not only help kids through the transition period from childhood into adolescence, they also boost student motivation by deepening family relationships, which are foundational to learning, achievement, and well-being. These relationships build strong social and emotional strengths that kids will use throughout their lives. 

Many programs look at what's wrong with families--Keep Connected starts with a family's strengths to build on what they're already doing right.

Keep Connected also encourages parents to be engaged in their kids' school by:

  • reframing parents’ expectations for adolescence, highlighting the value of ongoing support for student learning
  •  enhancing communication and trust with the families whom schools and organizations serve
  •  cultivating mutual support among the families (especially among parents)
  • strengthening the school or organization’s capacities to engage with diverse families

How Keep Connected is different

Parenting workshops often focus on younger kids or are only for parents alone. Keep Connected is a family engagement program takes a two-generation approach that engages both parenting adults and their children. This allows facilitators to meet with families as a unit, then break into groups where the parents meet with other parents while kids meet with other kids. 

And Keep Connected is focused on the strengths of the family--not the deficits.


Keep Connected was developed and tested in partnership with a variety of organizations across the United States, including middle schools, youth-serving organizations, and child and family service organizations.

What does the Keep Connected Series look like?

Keep Connected is a research-based program that gives parents and youth an opportunity to learn about keys to positive family relationships during the transition to adolescence. It is designed for six sessions plus a graduation. Parents and youth come together to learn new ways to stay connected, even as kids grow up and become more independent.

 Parents and teens arrive and meet together for a shared meal. Following the meal, parents and kids split up into separate groups to discuss the topic for the day with facilitators. At the end, both youth and parents come together for a final shared session. The sessions include a mix of learning and sharing activities for parents, for their middle-schoolers and for parents and youth together.

Between sessions, families engage in simple, fun take-home activities that help them try out key ideas from each session. At the end of the workshop series, families participate in a graduation celebration.

The sessions include a mix of learning and sharing activities for parents, for their middle-schoolers and for parents and youth together.

It's designed for schools, organizations, and networks that work with families, teens, and pre-teens between the ages of 10 to 14.

The Keep Connected workshops include time for:

  • Parents to explore challenges and strategies with each other
  • Youth to explore family relationships with other youth
  • Parents and youth to explore their relationships together
  • Strategies and tools to connect and build trust with families
  • Extended family opportunities through

Youth gather together for a Keep Connected session in IJ Holton Intermediate School in Austin, MN.

The Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships

To teach the components of the Keep Connected Workshop Series, we've developed a 2-1/2 day Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships which introduces facilitator teams and program coordinators to the program and the research behind it. 

It's designed for teams from an organization who will work together to coordinate the program and facilitate parent, youth, and family sessions.

What the Institute Includes:

  • The research-based framework for strengthening relationships that young people need to learn, grow, and thrive.
  • Professional development for program leaders and facilitators 
  • An introduction to the six-session, interactive workshop series that strengthens parent-youth relationships. 
  • A curriculum and guidebook that gives you tools to lead the sessions and recruit families, with handouts available in English and Spanish.
  • Resources and guides to help promote the program in your community.

How to make Keep Connected happen in your community: 

Keep Connected sessions at Jubilee Housing, Inc. in Washington, DC. began with a shared meal.

" I find it to be a holistic approach. I think you need to deal with everyone in the home; kids are often left out of family conversations..."


- Marcus Clark, Jubilee Housing, Inc., 

Washington, DC

What Others have Said About the Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships

Workshop dates: December 6-8, 2017

Hurry! Early Bird Registration ends October 31!

Dates: December 6-8, 2017

Time: Wednesday noon-4 p.m., Thursday 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Friday 8 a.m.-noon

Location: The Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota (Minneapolis metro area)

Early bird registration through October 31: $695

Registration through November 27: $795

Registration fee for 3 or more: Group discounts are available. Contact Mary Shrader at 800-888-7828 for group discount information.

Workshop fee includes 

  • Keep Connected Guidebook and Curriculum
  • Workshop materials
  • Breakfast on days 2 and 3
  • Refreshments & Snacks
  • CEU’s Provided
  • 2-year access to online tools and resources, including facilitator materials and strategies for recruitment and retention, effective facilitation, and other implementation issues. 

Enjoy lunch on your own in the mall's many restaurants and food courts! 

For more information, fill out our contact form and we will be in touch with you.

Register for the Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships

The Keep Connected Institute includes 2-year access to our online curriculum and online tools and resources, including facilitator materials and strategies for recruitment and retention and effective facilitation.

Lisa Denzer,  

Family and Community Liaison at IJ Holton Intermediate School

As Vice President of Research and Development, Roehlkepartain provides leadership for Search Institute’s research and development projects as well as serving as part of the nonprofit organization’s leadership team. Working with colleagues, he designs and implements major projects and partnerships aligned with Search Institute’s strategic priorities. He also represents the organization through consultations, presentations, and workshops. 

Roehlkepartain joined Search Institute in 1991 and, prior to assuming his current position, has had a number of roles, including acting CEO, executive vice president, senior advisor to the president, and director of publishing.He has a Doctorate Degree in Family, Youth, and Community Education.

Lacey Allen is the Research and Training Associate at Search Institute. She provides qualitative support to Search Institute’s research and development projects. She has extensive experience in the youth development field within school and community settings both domestically and internationally.  

Prior to joining Search Institute, Lacey served in the Peace Corps as a Youth Development Volunteer in Morocco and has worked in Washington, Texas and Minnesota for various youth development and education non-profits. She uses her previous youth worker experience to influence and guide the work she does at Search Institute. Lacey has a M.Ed. in Youth Development Leadership from the University of Minnesota and a B.A. in Communication from Washington State University. 

Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Ph.D. Vice President, Research and Development, Search Institute

About our Presenters

Lacey Allen

Research & Training Associate, Search Institute

Lisa Denzer is the Family and Community Liaison at IJ Holton Intermediate School in Austin, MN. Her role includes creating and implementing opportunities for family and community engagement with the school. Her focus involves engaging families that are representative of the school’s diverse student population and welcoming families to participate in the academic and social-emotional development of their children.

Through a partnership with the Search Institute, Lisa and a team of educators at IJ Holton have facilitated three sessions of Keep Connected to families and students in grades 5-8.Prior to her role at IJ Holton, Lisa served as a Mental Health Practitioner for the Austin Public School District for 11 years, providing school based mental health services and skills training to students in grades 5-12. 

Photo credit: Mall of America

Mall of America 

Executive Center

Level 4

Bloomington, Minnesota 55425

Workshop Location

Photo credit: Mall of America

The workshop is designed for teams who work with youth and parents, especially: 

  • School leaders, especially middle school
  • Parent-teacher coordinators
  • Family engagement program leaders
  • Juvenile justice programs
  • Child and family services programs
  • Family engagement programs
  • Faith-based programs
  • Community education programs
  • PTA/ PTO leaders

Wondering if this Institute is right for you?

Family, dinner, diversity


Who is the Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships for?

The institute is for schools and youth-facing programs that would like to strengthen families and engage parents during kids transition to middle school.

Who is the Keep Connected Program for?

Parenting adults and their youth ages 10-14.


Keep Connected has been tested with a variety of populations, including in urban, low-income communities, small towns, with families of color (primarily Latinx, African American), and white families. These have included single-parent families as well as two-parent families.


Materials are also available for Spanish-speaking parents to be used in Spanish-only or bilingual settings.

What is the research behind Keep Connected?

Keep Connected is research-based and was developed and tested in partnership with a variety of organizations across the United States including middle schools, youth-serving organizations and child and family service organizations. Through our research we know that strong family relationships not only help kids through the transition period from childhood into adolescence, they also boost student motivation by deepening family relationships, which are foundational to learning, achievement, and well-being. These relationships build strong social and emotional strengths that kids will use throughout their lives.


Keep Connected developed from Search Institute's study titled "Don't Forget the Families" of 1085 parenting adults of 3-13 year olds from across the U.S. which found that the quality of parent-child relationships is 10 times more powerful than demographics (race, ethnicity, family composition, and family income) in predicting whether children are developing critical character strengths they need for success in school and in life.  


Focus groups with youth and parents following participation in Keep Connected offer initial evidence that the program enhances:

  • Parent-youth relationships
  • Family communication
  • Youth responsibility
  • Student motivation to learn
  • Supportive community of families for families

Search Institute has not yet conducted the kinds of outcome or impact studies that would generate the level of evidence needed to describe Keep Connected as an evidence-based program, according to standards established by national databases such as the What Works Clearinghouse. (These studies are most effective when conducted after a model has been refined through implementation or formative evaluations.)

Are there materials that need to be purchased for participants?

 All required materials for families are available as reproducible handouts and do not require additional purchases.

What is included in the online tools and resources?

  • Downloadable copies of the latest version of the Keep Connected curriculum
  • Keep Connected in Context
  • Fundamentals of Family Engagement
  • Planning and recruitment tools for Keep Connected
  • Recruitment and marketing tools (videos, flyers, graphics, brochures, press releases, etc.)
  • Facilitating Keep Connected
  • Keep Connected Session downloads

Does Keep Connected align with ESSA's guidelines regarding family and parent engagement?

ESSA requires school districts to offer programs and activities that involve parents and family members, and they must seek meaningful consultation with parents. Depending on the specific requirements in each state, Keep Connected can meet several of the commitments outlined for districts (such as dissemination to parents) as part of a comprehensive family engagement strategy.

Have more questions? Please contact Mary

"This is really empowering for professionals in our field. It’s always valuable learning from people who are in the same boat as you. I feel like we need to find new ways to support families.”


- Michelle Morehouse, 

IJ Holton Intermediate School, Austin, MN

“There were really well-defined steps within the actual workshop itself, and for us to be able to take the material and give it back to our people, I feel a lot more comfortable now after these three days of training.”


- Marcus Clark, Jubilee Housing, Inc.,

Washington, DC

What participants have said about the
Keep Connected Institute for Strengthening Family Relationships:

“It’s one thing to hear about a program from the top down. But it’s very different to sit with peers who have gone through it, and share those experiences. I feel like I can really go back and sell the program.”


- Kelly Skokowski,  

YWCA Tri-County Area, Pottstown, PA


2. Benson et al., 2011

3. (Bowman et al., 2012). A 2010 survey of 2,691 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center similarly found that 76% said their family is the most important element of their lives, and 75% said they are very satisfied with their family (Taylor, 2010).

4. Heckman, 2008; Kuczynski, 2003; Laursen & Collins, 2009; Steinberg, 2001; Syvertsen, Roehlkepartain, & Scales, 2012; Tuttle, Knudson-Martin, & Kim, 2012

5. Reeves & Howard, 2013

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