• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • September 1996 • Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

Through IDRA’s role in the national Mobilization for Equity project funded by the National Coalition of Advocates for Students and the Ford Foundation, an informal network of families planned and conducted an educational conference for parents by parents last May. The families have continued to meet this summer and are preparing for a second conference this fall (October 26, San Antonio College). Below are some comments by participants about what has been learned in this leadership development process.

Clementina Padilla,

with 28 grandchildren, part of the central organizing committee and a conference presenter, shared in her beautiful and assertive Spanish:

“Para mi ha sido una oportunidad muy bonita de desenvolverme como líder. Me encanta eso porque tal vez ya lo trae uno dentro de si. Luego aqui lo he podido desarrollar. Ser un líder para MI es servir a la comunidad. Ser UN líder no Es estar en la punta de una organización. Es compartir con la comunidad.

“En este proceso hay una diversidad de liderazgo aqui entre nosotras y que bonitounos en politica, otros en lo que Es la educación, en inmigración, y por ejemplo MI liderazgo Es en la familia – para MI Es muy importante la familia. MI familia Es la familia de todos.

“Lo que más he notado en este proceso Es la confianza que nos han tenido. Nos han hecho sentir importantes. Nos han dejado que nos vayamos desenvolviendo con nuestras propias agallas de líder, aqui han hecho que crescamos como líder. Yo conribui en una manera muy especial; todo enfocado en la familia. Hay muchas familias muy disfuncionales y esta fue una oportunidad de acercarme a muchas familias. Fui conferencista, asisti a todas las juntas y participe en Las deliberaciones y gracias por darnos esa participación.”

[“For me, this has been a beautiful opportunity to develop as a leader. But, I love that because perhaps one already has that inside. To me, being a leader is serving the community. Being a leader is not being at the head of an organization but rather sharing with the community.

“In this process there is a diversity of leadership among us, and that is beautiful. Some are in politics, some in education, others in immigration – and, for example, my leadership is with the family. The family is very important to me. My family is all families.

“What I have noted the most in this process is the trust you have given us. You have made us feel important. You have let us develop, with our own gtsy ideas of what leadership is, you have made us grow as leaders. I contributed in a very special way with my focus on the family. There are many dysfunctional families and this was an opportunity to get closer to many families. I was a presenter. I attended all the planning meetings. I participated in all the deliberations and thank you for allowing me to participate.”]

Her colleagues around the table agreed that Clementina has much to teach many of us, even though we may hold a more formal education and strings of degrees.

Sylvia Rodriquez and Angelica Portillo,

parents with several children in public schools, some of whom have special needs, chimed in with what they have learned in the process.

“I have more confidence. I realize that others have the same problems I do. United we are stronger. We can help more parents and we feel better about ourselves.

“Ahora me gusta relacionarme con más gente y antes tenia miedo [Now I love to relate to others, and before I was afraid].

“We have learned that to be a leader we must be able to listen, and to share – to not be afraid to stand up for our rights; to help kids, ourselves and others; and to become united.

“Enseñarles a otros padres que hay que enfrentar los problemas, y a donde recurrir. Ayudar a Los niños y a otros que no saben como [Teaching other parents that we have to confront problems and where there is help. Helping the children and others who don’t know how].

“We have learned the proper way of doing things. Along the way our self-esteem is growing. Sometimes schools see us as troublemakers because we know too much. We have learned how to speak up, not to be walked on and how to go up the chain of command. We just want to be treated with respect.

“Vamos a tener exito. We will succeed. We can open the eyes of other parents and remove their fear.”

I also spoke with two women I worked with to host the family meetings and conference. Lucy Acosta [LA], director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) parent leadership training program, is a courageous leader, parent and sensitive ally to emerging parent leaders. Kimberly Jones [KJ], director of the Columbia Heights Language and Leadership Development Center in San Antonio, provided support, resources and meeting space. Her bright eyes light up in the presence of emerging grass roots leadership.

kJ: “What is important about this process is that it is left in the parents’ hands to go through the process, through trial and error and minimal intrusion with expertise. They continue to bring their talents to the table and develop their strong leadership skills.”

LA: “In this empowerment process, the parents are basically gaining confidence. Their increase in self­esteem is helping them participate in this process, and they are carrying that on to other aspects of their lives their interactions with school personnel, even their interpersonal relationships. I have seen them blossom in terms of where I saw them at the beginning of this process and where they are now. There’s been tremendous growth.”

I asked them:?“We’re using the planning and carrying out of a conference as a lab for parent leadership development. What are your measures of success for this effort?”

LA: “I measure the success in these parent conferences by the issues they are grappling with. For example, three years ago, just getting them to become involved in their children’s education was the big goal. Now they are basically choosing and prioritizing issues that affect them strongly. When you see the gap of where they started three years ago and where they are now. I think every year it is going to escalate. Where a parent might have started out concerned about how to help her child get a better grade or how to have better teacher conferences, they are now grappling with issues affecting the entire country. They are talking about immigration, welfare reform and the quality of education. They have gotten extremely sophisticated in a very short time. Very knowledgeable.”

kJ: “I would tell campus principals what a wonderful opportunity this is. If they haven’t cultivated leadership within their own school, this is how you do it. Superintendents, principals and counselors in the schools in my area of town all want greater parent involvement and this is an excellent opportunity for them to get parents involved. I would point out the presentation skills these parents have developed.”

LA: “I would also remind them about the state and federal regulations that require parent participation under Texas’ Senate Bill 1 in site based decision making. It’s very scary for principals to work with a group of parents who have been trained by someone else because there’s still the trust factor – they’re not sure whether it’s going to be a help to them or whether it’s going to be a headache.”

Dr. Aurelia Davila de Silva,

college professor, researcher in how children become biliterate and presenter at the parent conference who also brought with her a child, her husband and her parents. She is a parent activist who came to this meeting after a meeting with her own child’s teachers and is a founding member of this parent group. She shared the following:

“The benefits of this parent leadership process are many. The main one is that we are a group of parents networking together and trying to do what is best for kids. I think that through this networking there are a lot of good things that have happened. We know more about resources, people, agencies and the many things around us.

“My definition of leadership is any time a parent has tools to go in and get something accomplished for her own children or to help other parents go into a school and help another parent or children with whatever needs to get done and there are certainly many things that need to get done. I have noticed leadership emerging as, in our meeting today, I hear the case histories that are coming up from each parent. They are able to articulate their own history, the history of their own children, the history of what they did and can do and what can be done. I don’t see leadership as being in front of thousands of people, or 50 or 30 but it’s a one­to­one contact, it’s being able to touch the lives of many other parents of other children throughout a period of time.

“I have been extremely dissatisfied with my local PTA because it is controlled by a small group of people. In contrast, in our leadership process we have had parents of different socio­economic levels and from different ethnic groups. My PTA experience is that parliamentary procedures are used to quiet people. We need another way to empower parents. Now that we have this process going we need to open up even more because we will find similar case histories as we form alliances with parents from other groups. This is a wonderful way of meeting other parents that are going through the same thing I am.”

Aurelio Montemayor, M.Ed., is the lead trainer in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail to feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 1996 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.]