• IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2011 •

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.Editor’s Note: IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework emphasizes connections among schools and communities to secure success for all students. One innovative PTA Comunitario (Community PTA) was initiated two years ago in South Texas and is now multiplying. A second has been formally organized, and a third is in development. In this interview, four leaders of the nation’s first PTA Comunitario talk about their experience and passion for community engagement in education. The four leaders interviewed are Eva Carranza, Emilia Vega, Angelica Nava and Carmen Vargas. The conversation was in Spanish. What follows is a condensed, translated version. The full interview is available in Spanish through the IDRA Classnotes Podcast (via iTunes or http://www.idra.org/resource-center/a-new-model-for-community-engagement-in-education/) and in video on IDRA’s Courageous Connections website (www.idra.org/Courageous_Connections/).

On Choosing the Name: ARISE South Tower PTA Comunitario: ARISE (A Resource In Serving Equality) because it is the name that Sr. Gerrie Naughton our founder gave to the organization. “South Tower” is one of the four ARISE centers. And “Community PTA” because it is based in the community. The name was chosen by the organizing group at our very first meeting.

On Spreading the Word: We are interested in forming other PTAs like this one so parents have a voice in their children’s schools, and also so that they have the right to go to their children’s schools and find out about the children’s education and that parents do it without fear as they approach the school. This new PTA has been beneficial because the parents are active participants in the meetings. They come every month. And at each one, they have learned something new about the education of their children.

We have formed committees and are going out to other communities who have invited us to teach them how to start their own PTA Comunitario. Our goal is that more parents in other communities benefit from an organization like this one. We want other parents to have the same opportunities we have had here with this organization.

On the Benefits of a PTA Comunitario: Community PTAs like ours will benefit schools because parents will be much more involved. The difference between our PTA and the traditional kind is that ours is based not in a school but in a community organization. Parents have the leadership in this organization, not the principal or the professionals in a campus. Our organization is not run by the administrators. Our meetings are in Spanish, and parents are educated about many important topics related to school. Parents are trained to face the challenges brought upon by the continuous changes in schools. Title I schools can be even more supported by a PTA like this one.

Through the training offered by this PTA, parents are more informed about how the school is carrying out the educational program and therefore can be better partners in the education of their children.

We are communicating more with our children and supporting them to develop and grow. We are better prepared for all the changes happening in our schools. Our PTA is working hard so that schools don’t have so much difficulty in communicating with parents. Our parents are better informed about what is happening in schools.

On the Unique Strengths of a PTA Comunitario: Two basic things make our organization very strong and unique: Our principles and IDRA’s training and support. One key principle from ARISE that this PTA adheres to and is ingrained in us by our founder is the respect and dignity of every human being. She instilled in us that all human beings are created in the image of God and have many gifts and talents. Now, we as leaders pass on these same values with the confidence and trust she gave us. Each person’s dignity as a human being, his or her right to be listened to, and the right to receive an education… these are the principles we are grounded in.

We support parents to prepare themselves. We remind them that they are their child’s first teacher, that they are key to their children’s success.

Our meetings are in contrast to the meetings typical PTA school campus meetings. Ours are dynamic with much participation. We conduct them in Spanish using words the community understands rather than complicated education words and concepts presented in English. Our meetings are lively.

On Meshing with ARISE: At our community centers, we have program cycles of 12 weeks, and we celebrate the completion of a cycle. Each participant of a program presents what he or she created, completed or learned. Our PTA follows that pattern. We have educational festivals with parents and students so that parents and young people learn together. We celebrate PTA cycles using our standard way of communicating: visiting homes and talking face-to-face with families. Nothing can take the place of real, personal communication. We visit our families, assuring ourselves that they have the necessary information and offering transportation if needed. The Community PTA is in perfect ARISE sync and meshes with how our centers operate.

We have seasoned staff who have been with the organization for a good while and have observed that when ladies leave our PTA meeting or training session, they are ready to pass the information on to their neighbors, relatives and friends. New leadership is emerging from their PTA participation.

On Starting Your Own Community PTA: If anyone wants to consider starting their own community PTA they should be part of a community, love that community and especially love the children of that community. You need an organization that is based in that community and serves that community to provide the base. Families should be visited in person, not contacted through phone calls or notes sent with children or left in mail boxes. That doesn’t work. The ARISE approach of personal communication is key. Our very young PTA has had such success through the personal connections and trust the community has for us. We are very grateful that those who provide the training from IDRA are very respectful of staff, volunteers and all our families. We are treated as equals.

On Challenges: One big challenge our PTA Comunitario leadership has had was in getting schools to receive us. Some administrators said they did not have time to meet with us. Schools might perceive three or four mothers gathered together as a group coming to argue or fight. We’ve learned to be more organized and not to go to a school without an appointment.

There is a great difference between how a school communicates with families and how ARISE communicates with families. We make personal visits to families. Families are informed as to what is happening, such as the PTA meetings. We make personal invitations when there is a presenter coming.

On Seeing Impact: We have discovered that when the woman gets educated, the whole family gets educated. Parents who participate in our PTA then approach their school with much more confidence. They are much more self assured in dealing with their children’s issues at school. We observe much more confident parents when confronting problems their children are having in school. They are much more ready to talk with school people asking more questions and seeking solutions. Our community is more informed and more assertive.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2011, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2011 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.]