The day I found out I was selected to become a 2015 Bush Fellow was truly one of the happiest days of my life. We often hear people say this when they bring a new baby into the world or when they get married. While I’ve brought two beautiful daughters into the world I found this day to feel different. For me, this meant I could forever change the circumstances for my daughters, my community, and myself in a meaningful and impactful way for generations to come. I decided the focus of my Bush Fellowship would be figuring out a way to authentically engage parents in changing the educational outcomes our children are receiving to close the Achievement Gap. The achievement gap or what I would like to call the opportunity gap most directly affects my community but it’s my community that is the most unaware about what is happening. I wanted to understand how I could run an organization with the sole purpose and mission of informing, empowering, and activating parents or community members to be purposeful advocates for the children in their lives.
I began my journey by first taking some time to understand how my Bush Fellowship would impact me personally. I wanted to make sure my Fellowship focus was connected with my career goals and where I was in my career right now. I started this process with a professional development coach who helped me plan out what skills and knowledge I needed in order to strengthen my leadership abilities to get the job done. Another thing I started right away as a result of the retreat we attended to kick off our Bush Fellowship was well care for myself. I realized I needed to figure out a way to also care for Tasha through this process. I began yoga and meditation. While in the beginning it was hard to stick to the day-to-day schedule of doing both while working and taking care of my girls, I found a way to stick with. Each day I began to feel better and found myself not having moments in my day when I thought the world was coming down on me. As far as the focus of my Fellowship I began interviewing families across the state of Minnesota to understand their experiences in the K-12 public education system. I wanted to understand what they believed parent involvement was and what they felt the role of the school was in authentically engaging with them in their child’s education. I also wanted to know did they understand their role in their child’s education and what the achievement/opportunity gap was.
Over the course of six months, over 200 parents shared experiences and I took away multiple key learnings around the role of the parent, barriers for parents, and myths about parents of color. However, a few stuck out as potential game changers for the way we think about giving parents a meaningful position in the education their children receive. Below they are bulleted.
The role of parents:
- While it’s true that “education begins in the home,” parents are not trained instructors or experts in all subject areas like math, history, and science.
- Teachers joined the profession and got specialized training to teach our children. They made that commitment and they have the tools.
- Parents can support our kids’ education at home but we need to be able to trust that teachers are effective in the classroom in getting our children to grade level and above.
Barriers for parents of color:
- Many times we’re given a message that we’re not welcome in the schools. Many of us also did not have a great educational experience growing up.
- We too rarely see people in the schools who look like us – teachers, gifted and talented leaders, social workers, special education professionals.
Myths about parents of color:
- It’s a myth that parents of color are not involved in our kids’ education.
- Parents of color and low-income parents have high rates of involvement in our kids’ education. Studies show we’re equally or more likely than white parents to always check our children’s homework and to have a place set aside at home for homework. We’re also focused on our children attending college at incredibly high rates.
Collecting these key learnings will enable me to think through what tools and resources parents need in order to be the strong advocate needed for their kids. I will also be able to hear first hand from the ground how the policies my organization works on and supports affects the people they are intended to serve. Parents are discouraged by the lack of authentic engagement the system is providing but they have not lost hope. I’ve heard stories of their disappointment, stories of their sadness, stories of their anger, stories of their frustration with procedure but never once have not heard them say, “I give up!” They are fully aware of the battle, patience needed, and the energy required changing status quo and all they are looking for is someone to support them in doing so. I am up for the challenge and I’m honored they’re willing to fight alongside me!
Key activities over the last six months:
- Began engagement with a professional development coach.
- Began yoga and meditation as the way to support my physical well-being.
- Took LSAT preparation classes to prepare for my entrance exam into law school.
- Organized a trip of six parents to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington DC to hear he education reform discussion at the federal level.
- Completed my mini MBA at St. Thomas University.
- Attended a convening of black activists for working to transform Schools across the country.
- Engaged in education conversations with over 200 parents across the state of Minnesota.