• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2010 •
“Schools that work for all children” – IDRA has a big vision and addresses a huge challenge, following multiple paths. As advocates for children in neighborhood public schools, we connect with those who are the most available natural ally: the adults who most care about the child, the parent, relative or caretaker who is most connected and overwhelmingly desires the best for that child.
Family Leadership Partnerships
IDRA has developed a model for family leadership in education. In working with schools and communities, we have developed partnerships with community organizations that have education as a priority. In 1998, one such relationship was formed with ARISE (A Resource In Serving Equality) because of its interest in developing family leadership in support of an excellent education for all children, especially those who come from families that are poor, recent immigrant and whose home language is Spanish.
For more than a decade, IDRA conducted training and technical assistance to the ARISE centers located in some of the poorest communities in South Texas. The Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC) has carried out and met the priorities of the program: to serve Title I (low-income) school families, especially those whose children are attending schools that are not meeting academic standards. The ARISE promotora model for family outreach and connection is ideal. Home visits are conducted weekly, with each staff member and volunteer in direct communication and in a meaningful relationship with each family.
With assistance from the IDRA PIRC and support from Texas PTA, ARISE formed the country’s first PTA Comunitario. I outlined the process they followed in the April 2010 issue of the IDRA Newsletter. Their leadership is proving to be a model of community-based school engagement.
After completing its first year of existence, the group elected new officers, reviewed its successes of the first year, and laid out ambitious plans for the second year. One challenge they have decided to take on is the establishment of a new PTA at each of their children’s schools.
Key points of pride recorded for the first year were:
- Conducting monthly meetings with an average of 30 parents present (and almost as many children) with child care provided by ARISE staff who are also parents of school-age children.
- Visitors from schools and organizations attended almost every meeting.
- Doubling of the initial membership.
- Visits to the nine public schools attended by children of this PTA’s founding families. (Only one of the schools had a parent organization.)
- Training conducted by the PIRC on specific Title I parent benefits, rules and requirements. The sessions were conducted bilingually, and the materials were in English and Spanish.
- Focused discussions and inquiry about teaching quality at neighborhood schools.
- Public participation in community events, such as the Día del Niño parade held annually by ARISE in the colonias where they have an organizational presence.
- Presentations to sister community organizations about the new PTA.
Initial Lessons Learned
IDRA has supported parent leadership in education in a variety of settings and in multiple relationships. Much has been learned about what works and what doesn’t seem to be sustainable over a significant period. Past efforts that were city-wide or regional were lacking a strong local base. Indications are that a viable organization is one that has strong local roots. The ARISE South Tower PTA Comunitario effort reinforces IDRA’s experiences in public education advocacy.
First, it is vital to establish a relationship with a bona-fide grassroots community organization that has education as a priority. IDRA is a long-term child advocacy organization that focuses on creating neighborhood public schools that work for all children. As an intermediary it can bring skills and resources that are useful to the local group.
Second, build trust, communication and carefully identify the overlapping goals and objectives. Most community organizations have multiple goals, and it was very important to highlight the educational goals held in common by IDRA and the partner organization. ARISE is a mature and grounded community organization that is very clear on its goals, values the resources brought by IDRA and is a willing partner in carrying out mutually beneficial activities.
Third, take advantage of opportunities to transform traditional organizations as effective vehicles for parents (previously excluded or underserved). This opportunity was to transform the traditional PTA model of volunteerism and fundraising to one of a mutual school-home partnership in support of children’s academic and social success.
Fourth, give training, technical assistance and support in achieving mutual goals. Any initial effort to have a formal parent educational organization is like a glowing ember that needs to be protected and nurtured to burst into a sustainable fire. The Texas IDRA PIRC offers direct, on-site support that is consistent with the project goals and also with the assets and requisites of the local organization.
A community PTA is a viable alternative to the traditional organization. Many families will join a PTA that follows this model. The ARISE promotora/home visitor is the ideal outreach worker and a model for PTA outreach as well as Title I school campus outreach.
Though “parent participation” still describes the core activity, we use the term “family meaningful engagement” to signal that there is a new and improved description of the process. IDRA’s experience, the research on parent involvement and current Title I parent involvement requirements converge in one major premise: Families, meaningfully engaged, contribute significantly to student achievement and success. Families that are well informed about their children’s progress and their children’s schools and that are active in their children’s education can transform schools.
Brooks, S.M. “A Case Study of School-Community Alliances that Rebuilt a Community,” The School Community Journal (2009) Vol. 19, No. 2.
Montemayor, A.M. “ARISE South Tower PTA Comunitario – A New Model of Parent Engagement,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 2010).
Montemayor, A.M. “This We Know- All of Our Children are Learning,” Courage to Connect – A Quality Schools Action Framework, Robledo Montecel and Goodman, eds. (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).
National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group. Taking Leadership, Innovating Change: Profiles in Family, School, and Community Engagement (Cambridge, Mass.: The National Family, School, and Community Engagement Working Group, March 2010).
Posner, L. “Partners and Catalysts – How Communities Are Putting Data to Work to Improve Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2010).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is an IDRA senior education associate and director of the Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]