Leaders empower people by Laura Martinez

Laura Martinez

Guest post from LSAISD Class of 2014 participant Laura Martinez  with her thoughts on the January  class day on Leaders empower people. Laura lives in the San Antonio Independent School District 5.

In January, Leadership SAISD met to discuss the increasingly important topic of Parent Engagement. With the rigor of standardized tests, and the pressure to do well for both schools and students alike, many question whether education in the United States has been compromised as a result. In recent years many studies have correlated the outcomes of a child’s education to how involved their parents were in that education. The question then becomes just what does parent involvement look like? As a parent to a 1st grader, and 3 more children to follow in his footsteps this topic is right on target for me.

Our first guest speaker was Luis Perez, Director of Family and Parent Engagement for SAISD. Under his direction, SAISD has made great gains in getting parents more involved. The first step was admitting that they weren’t doing a very good job at it. They had to recognize that their schools weren’t always the friendliest, or most welcoming to parents. In order for parents to feel that they are the most influential person in their child’s education, they have to feel that the school recognizes that and treats them as such. They are in the process of training teachers, and administrators on how to have meaningful conversations with parents about their child’s education and what they can do to help. Each school has a parent liaison that is also being trained on how to interact with parents and to reach out on a more personal level. While he admits they have a long road ahead of them, at least they are taking steps in the right direction. He has in his office a model of what he hopes every campus will soon have available; a parent room. Each parent room must have 3 things: a kids corner, a college corner, and a resource center. In addition to this, the principal must come and engage with parents, not just give them tasks. All these efforts seem to be making a difference. The parent summit that used to attract 400 parents jumped to over 1000 parents with more expected this coming year. Knowing that SAISD has invested in a parent liaison for every school, and is genuinely trying to improve gives me hope that parents and schools will once again be team players.

We were then introduced to Judy Geelhoed, Executive Director for the SAISD foundation. She explained the importance of the foundation, the partners, and just how they work to support the teachers and schools in efforts that are out of reach for the school budget. (A few days later I was able to help deliver some of the mini grants to teachers at Barkley-Ruiz elementary and it was such a moving and exciting experience!).  We closed our session with Sheri Doss from Texas PTA. She came to change our mindset about what the PTA is all about. In the old days, we automatically associated PTA with parent bake sales and the like. She came to inform us that today’s PTA is quite the contrary. The PTA is the largest grassroots child advocacy organization in the nation. The value to families is through parent education programs, networking, resources, lobbying, and the opportunity to participate and get involved.

As I left our session I felt like I was on information overload and began to look back at my own educational experiences. When I was in grade school I remember having “room moms”, but I can’t exactly tell you what they did while they were there. I was the last of five children, and for most of those years we only had one car. My dad drove to and from work, so every one of us rode the bus to and from school every day until my sister got a car in high school. My mom was never able to be a room mom, never came to any field trips, and never came to eat lunch with me at school. However, if you ask me who my biggest influences were in my education I will tell you it was my parents.

My father had an associate’s degree, and my mother completed her GED when I was in Kindergarten. There was never any set schedule of when I had to do my homework. I remember coming home, throwing my books on the floor and playing outside until dinner. After dinner we completed our schoolwork as independently as possible. Somehow my parents still managed to have a strong influence in our education. My parents were always there to encourage us, but they were mostly concerned with running a household of 7 people. I never got any accolades other than a pat on the back or a “good job Mija” when I brought home straight A report cards. My dad made it very clear that our doing well in school was only going to help us, it did nothing for him.

Now that I have my own kids in school, I’ll admit times have changed. I don’t let my kids go outside unless I’m there to watch them. I’ve been on several field trips, I’ve eaten lunch with my child and I recently joined the Parent Organization. I am invited to regular meetings with our school principal, and am in contact with parents from the middle and high school. When I am at my child’s school I see parents who are there what seems to be every day. There is a room dedicated to parents who come to volunteer and put homework packets together, run off papers, and assist with projects that teachers need help with. There are the Parent Organization leaders who organize teacher luncheons, student activity days, sports activities and raise funds. The school has a dedicated Parent Liaison who also teaches social wellness to the children. All this, and I STILL question just what is the best way to ensure my child gets the best education possible. I even question if I am too involved.

Today there are more homes where both parents work, and more single parent households. When and how can these parents get involved in their child’s education? Does it have to be at the school, in the parent room, or school functions? While we recognize these are fun for the kids and a big help to our schools, is it absolutely necessary in order for our children to achieve and receive an outstanding education? Can a parent be involved and engaged by simply stressing the importance of school, making sure the child is there every day, and being proud of their accomplishments? How can schools avoid vilifying parents for not being there, and show an immense appreciation when they are? I think what I have come to understand is that educators have good intentions, and put in an immense amount of time. It is easy to forget that parents are doing the same thing, just somewhere other than the school. What we are each asking of each other is something every person wishes they had more of…..time! A mutual respect for walking in another man’s shoes would go a long way.