• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2011 •
Parents can be vocal and assertive leaders advocating for excellent schools. Through IDRA’s almost 40-year history, a strong model of parent engagement has evolved, constructed from the experiences in the field, especially with Title I schools and the families whose children attend them.
Training Institutes for Parents
The IDRA Family Leadership in Education Model began to take shape in the early 1980s. With support from the then Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs, IDRA held training institutes for parents in Texas for parents of children in bilingual education. Our idea from the start was to have an approach that honors the participants’ language and culture and to focus on parent engagement in non-traditional ways. Our approach was participatory, bilingual and focused on parents having influence on their children’s education. We saw that parents were seeking to have appropriate curriculum and effective teachers for children who were learning English as a second language.
Families United for Education: Getting Organized (FUEGO)
From 1995 to 2000, as part of the Mobilization for Equity (a collaboration with the National Coalition of Advocates for Students), we trained, supported and facilitated city-wide education conferences for parents by parents. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) parent leadership project had trained hundreds of parents in the San Antonio area, and IDRA provided leadership follow-up and continuity. We created Families United for Education: Getting Organized (FUEGO) and provided a laboratory for parent leadership.
Parent Institutes for TABE and NABE
We also demonstrated our leadership model with state and national organizations in an attempt to increase awareness among educators to see the value of parent leadership for their cause. We worked with the National Association for Bilingual Education and the Texas Association for Bilingual Education to have a strong parent-focused strand at their annual conferences, including parent institutes.
Participants gave high marks to the experiences but returned to their home base without any local institution or group to connect with. It was clear that, for the model to take and have legs, it would have to be housed and nurtured in a local organization, strongly connected to its base and with sufficient history, neighborhood roots and resources to be the carrier of the “family leadership” meme.
Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute™
In 1998, we initiated the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators Institute™, a unique bilingual early childhood annual conference held in San Antonio each year. We began to hold parent institutes in conjunction with the educator activities and have continued to spotlight our Family Leadership in Education Model with presentations by parents. Many a nervous parent has made his or her first conference presentation at our institutes. Each parent group that leads a presentation has sprung from our model.
Over time, IDRA forged a strong relationship with ARISE (A Resource In Serving Equality) in the Texas Rio Grande Valley because of its interest in developing family leadership in education, especially among families that are poor, recent immigrant and whose home language is Spanish. ARISE founder, Sr. Gerrie Naughton, invited us in. Over the course of a decade, IDRA has led training and technical assistance for the ARISE centers located in some of the poorest communities in South Texas.
The ARISE promotoras (outreach workers) conduct weekly home visits and are in direct communication and in a meaningful relationship with each family. The Texas IDRA Parent Information and Resource Center (PIRC) serves Title I (low-income) school families, especially those whose children are attending schools that are not meeting academic standards. We have conducted yearly institutes, workshops and training of trainers, all based on and extensions of the Family Leadership in Education Model.
IDRA invested significant time and resources guiding these community leaders to put education on the front burner in the midst of multiple pressing issues: immigrant rights, community services, health, employment and housing. The connection remained strong because they gave a high priority to education.
National Recognition and National PTA
Our work in Texas was receiving some notice nationally, including with the national leadership of PTA. As director of IDRA’s PIRC, this author served on the National PTA board for four years, learning about that venerable institution and discerning how PTA fit into our leadership work in low-income neighborhoods. Most of the families we were most concerned about were not PTA members. The organization did not seem inviting or useful for their interests and needs.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education published Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons from Five Parental Information and Resource Centers, which highlighted the IDRA Texas PIRC work based on our Family Leadership in Education Model and gave us a broader audience and connections. Around the same time, Our Children, the National PTA magazine, profiled this author, which was another opportunity to disseminate the family leadership ideas and to remind the PTA family of the importance of supporting leadership from within low-income communities.
ARISE South Tower PTA Comunitario
Given our work with ARISE, we saw that the conditions were ripe for establishing a long-term site for our Family Leadership in Education Model within a grassroots organization. It took three years of conversation to convince ARISE’s Lourdes Flores to organize a community PTA. When she agreed, ARISE became the first PTA Comunitario in the nation. The original group has multiplied its membership, elected its third-year officers and has been coaching other groups interested in starting a community PTA. A second one was founded in Brownsville, Texas, and others are considering doing likewise.
A parallel direction is to organize campus-based PTAs in the schools their children attend, but to follow the principles that have been central to the movement. Following are the necessary conditions for institutionalizing family leadership in education.
- It is vital to establish a relationship with a grassroots community organization that has education as a priority. IDRA is a child advocacy organization that focuses on strengthening neighborhood public schools to work for all children. As an intermediary, we can bring skills and resources that are useful to the local group.
- Build trust, communication and carefully identify mutual goals and objectives. Most community organizations have multiple goals, and it is very important to highlight the educational goals held in common.
- Transform the traditional PTA organizational model into a more effective vehicle for parents who have been previously excluded or underserved. Our Community PTA model transforms that traditional model of volunteerism and fundraising to one of a mutual school-home partnership in support of children’s academic and social success.
- Provide mutually agreed upon training, technical assistance and support to achieve the school transformation goals.
Where and Why
Currently, the IDRA Family Leadership in Education Model is carried out in many places but it is most visible in some very small, very poor communities in south Texas. The vehicle for transmitting the model is the community PTA as developed and carried out in south Texas by ARISE and others.
Why is it important? At the May meeting of the ARISE South Tower Community PTA, the 30 participants were asked why this organization was important to them. The essence of their responses was: “We can understand what is said,” “We all participate,” “We learn something important about the education of our children at every meeting,” and “Our voice is heard.”
Montemayor, A.M. “IDRA’s Family Leadership Principles,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2007).
Montemayor, A.M. “The ARISE South Tower PTA Comunitario – An Example Community-Based School Engagement,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2010).
PTA. “Meet Aurelio Montemayor,” Our Children (October-November 2008).
U.S. Department of Education. Engaging Parents in Education: Lessons from Five Parental Information and Resource Centers (Washington, D.C.: Office of Innovation and Improvement, 2007).
Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services and director of the IDRA Texas Parent Information and Resource Center. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.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.]