The phrase “student success” likely brings to mind the image of a child in the classroom, putting pen to paper and working through complex math or reading comprehension problems. But it’s what happens behind the scenes—beyond the classroom walls—that can contribute to a student’s ability to reach his or her full potential.

Families play a major role in encouraging, preparing, and monitoring the progress of their children in their educational journeys. But for many parents, significant barriers often prevent them from being as involved as they would like to with their child’s education. From a lack of understanding of the “teacher-speak” at school or being overwhelmed with responsibilities, many parents simply don’t feel equipped to contribute to their child’s learning.

That’s why the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County began hosting the Parent Leadership Academy, a 10-week training program aimed at ensuring every parent has the opportunity to stay engaged in their child’s education, helping them be successful in and out of the classroom.

The program is split into two phases: Parent Readiness Empowerment Program (PREP) and Parent Leadership Academy (PLAY). PREP is focused on making sure parents have a strong foundation and can plug into their child’s school. As Annissa Franklin, who oversees the Parent Leadership Academy, explains, “When parents first come to us, they’re often intimidated by what they don’t know.” So the PREP phase helps parents build and maintain a strong foundation for engagement by mastering skills, like learning how to read a report card or contacting their child’s teachers and administrators.

Once parents graduate from PREP, the PLAY phase dives deeper into more complex issues like education policy (including the Every Student Succeeds Act) and communicating effectively with teachers and school and district leadership. This phase involves role-playing exercises, where parents are given case studies and tasked with resolving situational issues that they might face. And thanks to a close relationship with the Fayette County School District, the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette stays in the loop on local developments and issues of concern for parents, helping them tailor their curriculum to fit the needs of their students and families.

The Parent Leadership Academy has been running for two years in Fayette County. Since 2016, 51 parents have graduated from the academy, and another 48 are anticipated to graduate by the end of this year. Once parents graduate from the training course, the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette follows up every six months to invite them back to speak to new parents and share their experiences.

“I learned from the Parent Leadership Academy that there are many opportunities out there for my son to better his education,” said Vanessa, a recent graduate of the program. “I learned what to expect from teachers and how to ask the right questions about what he is learning.”

The program has become popular—with more parents signing up than the academy has the capacity to serve. But Franklin has advice for any parent wondering how they can stay engaged with their child’s education: Know your child’s school. “In having that closer connection with the school, your child is just going to do better.”