• by Felix Montes, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2015 •
Parent accountability and civic engagement in education received a significant boost with the advent of the 1966 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), passed as a part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The act mandated that funds be authorized for professional development, instructional materials, resources to support educational programs, and parent involvement promotion. The act has been reauthorized to this day, and programs have spread throughout the country.
However, parent participation in many of those programs has been lackluster. As a researcher with more than 20 years of experience evaluating educational programs in schools and school districts in Texas, it’s not unusual for me to hear this summary statement from school program staff, “We have an excellent parent involvement program; now all we need is the parents to come.”
At the same time, for more than 20 years, hundreds of parents from all over Texas have been traveling to San Antonio for the Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute each April. A bus loaded with parents came from Dallas this year. Another group came from the Rio Grande Valley. Yet another came from San Marcos and surrounding communities.
Nearly 300 people participated in the institute this spring, most of them parents. And all of this with minimal advertisement, in fact, mostly by word of mouth. This begs the question: Why are parents so willing to attend this parent institute by the hundreds and yet are missing those “excellent local parent involvement programs?”
Part of the answer can be found in results of in-depth interviews from participants who attended the institute this year, summarized in this article. When asked about their expectations, one participant said: “I was very nervous when I was getting ready to come. However, upon seeing other people that, like me, spoke Spanish, I started to relax. I realized that they came to share ideas about their own programs like me, and they were willing to learn new things from each other.”
The Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Parent Institute is designed to be a forum for parents to demonstrate their roles as decision-makers and as presenters, which are the two highest components of IDRA’s family leadership model in education (Montemayor, 1997). The institute also is a platform to support active parent civic engagement. In many cases, parents themselves are the presenters focusing on prekindergarten to college topics, including early childhood education, literacy development, bilingual/ ESL education, dropout prevention, high school graduation requirements in Texas, college access, and family engagement. All presentations are participatory and bilingual (English-Spanish).
For example, students and educators from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district shared their experiences with the district’s programs to help all students graduate with biliteracy credentials. A parent from San Antonio who heard the presentation said: “I liked what I learned about the dual language program they have… We plan to reach some plan or agreement to talk to our district to explore the implementation or expansion of a dual language program here.”
A parent from San Marcos added: “For me, it’s very important for children to learn both languages (English and Spanish). I just heard what the ladies were saying about how the children are learning so much in those classrooms for each other and about both languages… I want that for my children too.”
Another theme was parent participation through Comunitario PTA, IDRA’s model for community engagement currently being implemented in several communities in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley area, as a collaborative between ARISE, IDRA and the local school districts. One of the presenters explained: “One difference between our PTA and the regular PTA is that we focus on issues that are relevant to the people in the community. We visit families in their homes and provide them information but also collect information from the community about their needs and we try to respond to those needs, working with IDRA and with the local school districts.”
Another parent responded to the presentation, saying: “I really liked the Comunitario PTA session. With us, we do have regular meetings with our parents and get them involved, but a lot of the parents have elementary, middle and high school children. And you don’t see that level of parent involvement in those schools. Through a Comunitario PTA perhaps this can be improved. So we talked about how we can set one up to help parents get involved.”
After another session, parents explained: “We presented what we are doing as part of the AVANCE volunteering program in Harlandale ISD. We explained how AVANCE works with the school in collaboration with United Way.” This program involves the establishment of a parent room in the school, where parents can go any time both to offer their services and leadership and to get information and support with their own issues. According to one of the presenters: “Parents do feel empowered. They feel that they can go and speak to the principal and the administration, and they have plenty of opportunities to do that. And they do speak up and say, ‘This is what I think should happen; this is what I see going on…’ [They talk about] things that need to be addressed.”
Another parent supported the need for this type of program in her district, saying: “I would say a center for parents is needed. We often want more parent involvement, but then we don’t have that space. I feel that if we had a building or location dedicated just to have parents come and do parent education or just do different things that would help a lot.”
Another set of sessions focused on early childhood education. One participant commented: “We need to assure that ECE (early childhood education) in the various centers should be of high quality. By that I mean that, for example, there has to be a parent engagement component, where parents are really involved in the education of their children from the beginning. Also we need to provide adequate and proper quality training for teachers of these children, along with livable wages to retain highly qualified teachers with the passion for working with those young children.”
These are just a few of comments participants shared in interviews throughout the institute. College access, unequal funding and unequal educational quality, and the importance of universal preschool were all prominent topics of conversations as well. This event was unique not only in the breadth of coverage, but also because those discussions were driven by parents in their languages and from their own perspectives, as decision-makers and presenters, demonstrating the highest quality of parent civic engagement.
As one parent succinctly expressed: “I am learning so much from everything that’s going on around here. I never heard of some of these techniques. I learned so many things: different programs and techniques to take back home. My mind is bubbling with new ideas!”
Video of the institute is available online at IDRA’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHwTt4rGIuxVmBAbyLNIroA).
Montemayor, A.M. “The Nurturing of Parent Leadership,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 1997).
Felix Montes, Ph.D. is an education associate in IDRA’s Student Access and Success Department. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2015, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June – July 2015 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.]