Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Taking time to listen to parents

The following opinion column was brought to my attention recently:
We have to tackle education's urban crisis

Here is my commentary to Ms. Creighton's opinion:
Contrary to Ms. Creighton’s belief, at the Turner Courts housing development in South Dallas, it became clear to me that parents cared about their children as nine out of the twenty-one families (including two fathers) of our After-School Academy filed in for the monthly parent meeting. (One parent who usually attends was at the emergency room with her son; another, who is pregnant, is on doctor-ordered bed rest. Four others had never missed a meeting before this evening and continue to be in constant contact with us as they utilize our computer lab during the day, pick up their children, attend a job skills program we are offering, or simply speak when we see each other in the neighborhood.)

During the meeting, the After-School Academy coordinator Wyshina Harris, a parent and a former resident of Turner Courts, started the meeting off with reminders, then moved on to discuss an experience she had at her daughter’s middle school where her daughter was sent home for wearing brown knee socks and brown plaid shoes with her khaki pants and white shirt uniform. Her 11-year old daughter was accused of dressing like she was “going to the club” by one of her teachers. Wyshina explained that she had used the internet, available at the After-School Academy, to figure out how the official dress code (which does not mention the color of socks or shoes a child must wear) and then register a complaint against the school for being more concerned about her child’s socks and shoes than her education and against the teacher for making an inappropriate comment to her child.

Wyshina went on to explain hers and Sylvia’s frustration with the local elementary school when they tried to visit. She explained that the school has called both of them several times for discipline issues related to their boys, but when they went to visit unexpectedly in hopes of checking in on their children, they were told they needed an appointment. Wyshina used the internet, once again, to go online and fill out a volunteer application. Since the school would not allow her in as a parent, she decided volunteer so that they have to let her in. For the parents who don’t work during the day or work in a flexible job like she does, she encouraged other parents to do the same.

Sylvia shared another experience she has been having, explaining that last year she visited the school to get her son tested so that she could know how to help him. After visiting the school weekly for two months, they finally did test him, diagnosing him with ADHD. She took him to the school health services building to see a counselor two times a week until the summer when the counselor’s schedule did not work with her own. She then found out that the counselor had moved to a different center. She believes she must now go through another referral process to get him back in. However, her frustration also lies in the fact that despite his behavior issues, his teacher assured Sylvia performance was not a concern. However, after receiving his Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) in October of this year, at which he scored “below average” in every subject, she is now being asked by his current teacher why she didn’t hold him back a year.

These testimonies prompted other similar stories—positive and negative. All nodded when a parent started talking about her fear and concern about living in the “projects.” Parents began describing how they had made the best of the situation by keeping their children indoors until they found ways to get involved in a way that was safe for their family. One lady coaches cheerleading in the community and has a high school son preparing for college. Another parent explained how she wanted the best for her kids as well and asked for information about how to enroll in GED so that she can eventually go into the field of nursing. One parent took Sylvia up on her offer to enroll in a job skills class that will be offered in the community. Resources were offered and connections were made.

The meeting that was scheduled for one hour went 15 minutes over.

What’s the difference between Turner Courts, Flower Mound, and Shelby’s freshman biology class? After talking to a number of parents who live in the inner city (those who attend the meetings and those who don’t), the problem I find is that their voice is often disregarded. When they do make attempts to be involved, they must jump through hoops and often must miss hourly-wage work. Getting their child the help s/he needs is exhausting and, despite their attempts, often futile. A learned helplessness often results.

We need to celebrate the ambition of these parents who continue to do what they can to get their child the help they need, despite the disparaging remarks of people who have never taken the time to get to know the families, their situations, and the obstacles they have to overcome on a daily basis.

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