• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • April 2014 •
Parent educators and liaisons have been part of public school outreach for many decades. The Title I federal support to public schools funds parent involvement. The challenge has always been to have authentic and meaningful connections with families especially those who are economically disadvantaged, of color, recent immigrants…or all of the above. A strong alliance between schools and community organizations is a means of maintaining excellent public schools, and incidentally, meeting the spirit of the law in federal parent involvement requirements.
The education system is complex and not easy for laypersons to navigate. It would seem to be more so for poor, Spanish-speaking recent immigrants from unincorporated communities on the fringes of towns. Yet groups of these families have been able to understand basic graduation requirements, the value of dual credit courses and the pitfalls of minimal, non-college preparatory tracks. They understand that pre-Algebra in the eighth grade is an advantage for all students and that even without understanding the content of the math curriculum, it is critical for entering college.
The PTA Comunitario, derived from IDRA’s Family Leadership in Education model, has been a context for families to learn about and take action on educational topics that are critical for understanding their children’s education. Some curricular issues for parents include:
- Graduation requirements,
- Sequences of courses in core content areas,
- Distinctions among regular, advanced/honors and dual credit courses, and
- Key ideas about standards, curriculum and instruction.
Some of the major challenges parents face are patronizing or deficit views of families both by schools and traditional parent organizations and often their ideas that family leadership in education requires money and formal education. We’ve seen educators operating under the assumption that poor, less educated parents and those whose first language is not English are challenged to understand educational issues. There is also a critical need for participatory, dialogical meetings in the language of the participants, and adaptation educational jargon for lay person groups.
These families aren’t looking for a watered-down curriculum. They expect schools to use appropriate and effective ways of teaching their children so that they learn the content and are prepared for post-secondary education. Families can ask critical questions about what is being taught and the degree to which students are learning what is required and necessary. Families can survey their own children and others in their community about a series of issues that directly connect to the curriculum and instruction.
A student may be asked: How are you doing in your math class? What is helping you learn and what is blocking you? When you have questions are they answered? When you don’t grasp a concept, in what other ways is it being taught? These kinds of questions have been discussed, practiced and used for family community surveys and provide valuable insights to families, organizations and schools (Montemayor, 2007).
One school district and several grassroots community organizations are developing new and important collaborations and alliances in south Texas. The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District in the lower Rio Grande Valley and organizations from the Equal Voice network, have established new and strong connections. Several events at the beginning of 2014 exemplify these evolving connections. A Saturday meeting, Mesa Comunitaria Educativa brought together families, community organizations, school district administrators and staff and college administrators (See Page 1). The conversations were about high school graduation requirements that were paths to college, and full and equitable funding of schools. Among the powerful elements of the meeting was the opportunity for people to work with their peers in roundtables and the multiple connections that participants were making from their vantage points and experiences.
Another event two weeks later further illustrates these new connections. A full-day staff development for all the parent educators of the PSJA schools was focused on community connections. Three organizations presented. Proyecto Azteca, which provides housing for the poorest residents of their communities; La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), with its roots in the farmworker organizing of Cesar Chavez and that focuses on multiple issues, including recent immigrant advocacy and rights, college access and education; and ARISE, A Resource in Serving Equality, which works intensely in some of the poorest colonias in community and leadership development. Each organization presented its history and services with the intention of identifying where the families whose children attend PSJA schools could connect with the services of those agencies.
The afternoon was hosted at a community center: ARISE Las Milpas south of Pharr, Texas, where the parent educators could experience the barrio environment and see the many displays of the community services and activities at that site – an enlarged simple wood-frame home to which a large room was added so that meetings of up to 50 people could be held. The center staff talked about their weekly work (an average of 50 home visits in a week), the early childhood and health classes held in the homes, and the larger community events in which they participated. The parent educators were deeply moved and shared their learnings and planned activities at the end of the day. Key ideas that emerged from the parent educators: we must connect with families directly as these community organizations do, and we must connect with the activities of these organizations to expand our reach and strengthen the family-school relations.
The PTA Comunitario model supports and encourages parents to assess curriculum and instruction without attempting to convert them into teachers or curriculum specialists. Schools and teachers would be well served to ask families about these things and listen carefully to responses. A parent doesn’t need to know English or algebra to be intimately aware that her child is not understanding the math lessons and is quickly losing interest in school and, even more critically, doubting his or her capacity to comprehend algebra. Families must be validated for understanding when curriculum and instruction is ineffective with their children and searching for ways to support their children’s academic success. Community organizations have proven that they can provide valuable partnerships to improve education in schools.
Bojorquez, H., & A.M. Montemayor. “Mesa Comunitaria Educativa – Community Collaboration for Education Advocacy,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2014).
Montemayor, A.M. “This We Know All of Our Children are Learning,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2007).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education association in IDRA’s Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2014 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.]