Unfortunately, it has taken me a while (almost too long), to construct this recap from Mom Congress. I did not realize what a difficult feat this would be to summarize this amazing, once in a lifetime experience. My goal now is to find my niche, to determine my mission to advocate for education for my community and the state of Missouri. As you read this blog entry, please brainstorm ideas and leave me comments. I’m open to advocate suggestions.
Schools across the country are facing unprecedented budget cuts and challenges while still trying to educate children per stringent government standards. These budget cuts have no boundaries, affecting urban, suburban and rural communities. As federal and state funding to school districts diminish and challenges mount; the urgent need for parental involvement becomes more prevalent in every school. There are many questions that arise from teachers, parents and parent-run volunteer organizations, “How do we get families engaged in our school?”
When I was chosen to represent the state of Missouri in Parenting magazine’s 3rd Annual Mom Congress Conference on Education and Learning, I did not know what to expect, except that I was about to walk into an opportunity of a lifetime. I looked forward to the insight I would be provided and more significantly contribute to not only my immediate school community, but to education in the state of Missouri. In addition to learning from a group of moms how they contribute to their school communities, I learned that as parents and advocates, we are not alone in our plights to better education for children. Our geographic locations may be different, from Alaska to Maine, Hawaii to the Missouri; however, we all share in the same goal, providing the best learning environment for all children; and with that a determination and timeless dedication to serve as advocates and volunteers. Mom Congress provided a learning experience that stressed the significant role that parental involvement plays in the academic success of our children.
What exactly is Mom Congress? Parenting magazine designed the Mom Congress initiative in response to the ever-increasing role parents play in educating children. The goal is to honor and create a network of parents, who are all working towards the same goal, strengthen the nation’s school communities. Fifty-one moms were chosen from each state and the District of Columbia to serve as delegates during the conference. The conference provided outstanding opportunities to collaborate on ideas to improve our schools and connect with national leaders in education, editors from Parenting magazine, and other Mom Congress Delegates, both past and present. The theme of the 2012 Mom Congress conference, “Teach Me Something New,” and was dedicated to fostering the crucial relationship between parents and their children’s teachers.
I was chosen due in part for my contributions and dedication to improving local schools. As an education advocate, I restructured, designed and implemented streamlined processes for organizing volunteer parents with the goal of making volunteering easier and the overall process of managing volunteer-run activities more efficient. My most notable contribution to our community followed the Good Friday Tornado of 2011. Within 48 hours of the devastating tornado, she organized a donation center for families within the school district. Utilizing several outlets, she secured donations of clothing, food, toys, household and personal care items. Currently, I serve on the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan Committee, I am working with school district administrators in the development of a parent-based legislation advocacy committee and I hope to promote and increase family engagement opportunities and bully prevention programs within our schools.
The Mom Congress conference included presentations by several leading education advocates, the most notable, NBC Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The message was clear by both keynote speakers as well as others that presented during the conference; parent participation is essential, is necessary, is vital to the success of the child and the school.
Our teachers have a difficult role, not only to educate, but often times, must care for the needs of the child beyond the classroom. Parents may wonder where they belong or how they fit into the education process. The number one thing parents need to do is be courageous as they advocate for their child and educate themselves as to the processes within their children’s school. Establishing and fostering an open dialogue between parents and teachers is fundamental; with the parent/teacher relationship’s constant focus on the child. Before I talk with my children, I ask them to put their listening ears on. As parents, as educators, we must do the same thing; we must put our listening ears on, listening to each other and listening to our children. We must keep in mind that what we do as educators, as parents and as volunteers, the goal is for and about the children.
As budgetary issues loom over school districts; financing and supporting school programs and classrooms present insurmountable challenges to educators. Teachers are still expected to perform and produce successful students while resources become few and far between. School districts and teachers need to be creative in how to incorporate the assistance of parents to fill these gaps. Education needs to be a community effort, not solely a school-driven effort. The key here is to find ways to involve parents within the education process.
How is parental involvement accomplished? How do educators make parents feel welcome within the process? Currently, there is discussion surrounding the Family Engagement in Education Act. If passed, this act would provide resources to school districts across our country to facilitate the involvement of parents within the education process. These resources would include professional development programs for educators on how to bridge the gap between education and parental involvement. In short, schools need to invest in family engagement for parents may very well be the underutilized resource in filling the gaps that budgetary cuts leave behind.
Parents, we have a responsibility too. We may think that we are too busy to become involved in our child’s school, where our commitments may prevent us from taking an active role in our children’s education. Look at it this way, the report card should not be a surprise or the only means of communication between you and your child’s teacher.
Parental involvement in your child’s education is simpler than one might think. The first step in getting involved in your child’s school is easy, ASK. You will not know where to start or how to become involved if you do not ask to be involved in the school improvement process. Volunteer opportunities do exist within PTA/PTO (parent-run) organizations within schools. These offer a variety of areas for parents to volunteer, with a semblance of flexibility. However, this type of volunteerism is not the only means of involvement; think outside the box, and again, ask how you can become involved.
Becoming involved is as easy as establishing a line of communication with your child’s teacher via email or the old fashion way, via a note to your teacher in the backpack. Let your child’s teacher know that you are present and you are willing to be there every step of the way through your child’s education. Knowing that parental support exists is a significant help for the teacher. Just remember, when approaching teachers and school administrators do not come at them, work alongside them, present a unified front in becoming involved. There is a fine line between being a volunteer parent versus a helicopter parent.
What about working, low income, and/or non-English speaking parents? Both educators and established parent volunteers cannot assume that working, low income, and/or non-English speaking parents do not want to be involved or cannot become involved in their child’s school or education. These parents may not know where to start or how to become involved. Established parent volunteers and educators may need to take that extra step and reach out to these families and bridge the gap through communication and inclusion. These fundamental steps can and will play a significant role in establishing relationships with parents who may otherwise feel intimidated or unsure on where they can contribute within their child’s school.
In revisiting the theme of the conference, “Teach Me Something New,” I can say, without reservation, that I learned a great deal from this experience. As a parent, as a mom, I am not alone in this endeavor to advocate for the best education for my children as well as for children within my state and across the country. It is vital to be involved in my children’s education and that no act of volunteerism or involvement is too small. Education is a partnership; education is a family endeavor with great rewards and family engagement and involvement is crucial for success. Secretary of State Arne Duncan, as he addressed the Mom Congress Delegates stated, “When a student walks across the stage to receive their diploma, a whole family walks across the stage,” (April 30, 2012, Parenting magazine Mom Congress Conference on Education and Learning). As we embark on the journey to graduation and prepare to walk across the stage with our children; we must remember, that journey, that walk, begins in Kindergarten and continues throughout elementary school, middle school and high school. The journey to graduation, the need for parental involvement in education knows no boundaries.
In reading this, I am sure there are parents out there thinking, “I am too busy to volunteer or get involved.” As I said, no act of involvement is too small and can start at home. What I also learned during Mom Congress, that the two busiest parents in the world, the President and First Lady, make it a point to attend every Parent/Teacher conference for their children. If they can squeeze communicating with their children’s teachers into their packed schedules; I am sure I can manage time to be an active parent in my children’s schools.
Thank you for visiting my blog. I appreciate your support and encouragement. Please continue to visit, please leave comments/suggestions and please subscribe. Also, please share my blog with others who may benefit from the content. The journey through the information superhighway needs refueling every once in a while. I need your help to keep the message going. We are our children’s best advocate, united we are one voice for our children.
I’d like to end with a quote by Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” As a parent, I have one opportunity to influence my children; I hope to be an example to them by being involved and engaged in their education. My focus has always been to make our school community stronger, a beacon of learning, leading by example.