• by Oanh H. Maroney and Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • September 1997
Educating our children requires active involvement from all members of the community. The sole responsibility does not lie with teachers or schools. Since its beginning, IDRA has worked with parents, teachers, counselors and community-based organizations to improve education for all children. For the past several months, IDRA has been engaged in a project called Community Leadership for Standards-Based Reform through a grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. The project facilitates increased accountability on the part of educators, parents and community organizations for the education of children in the Corpus Christi Independent School District (ISD).
The school district is implementing new academic standards in its middle schools. However, the community at-large is unaware of the implications this change has brought to secondary education. IDRA is working with local organizations to inform parents of middle school children about the new academic standards and how they affect students’ grades and performance requirements. Once parents have acquired a clear understanding of the issues that affect their children, they are better able to act as strong advocates of those issues.
Two distinct components compose the project. The first component focuses on teachers, administrators and parent outreach facilitators in the Corpus Christi ISD. IDRA staff members met with these individuals at least once a month throughout the 1996-1997 school year for school-community planning sessions. While there are participants from several middle school campuses throughout the district, the project specifically targets five middle school campuses: Cunningham Middle School, Driscoll Middle School, Martin Middle School and South Park Middle School, and the Wynn Seale Academy of Fine Arts.
The second component focuses on parents and community-based organizations. IDRA, through the grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, has awarded mini-grants to community-based organizations that serve families in the five target schools’ attendance zones. Each community-based organization uses these funds to conduct outreach activities to families in the community. For example, community-based organizations recruit parents to attend workshops conducted by IDRA staff members. The purpose of these workshops is twofold. First, the workshops provide a forum through which parents learn more about the new academic standards that have been implemented in Corpus Christi middle schools. Second, the workshops provide an avenue through which parent leadership may be developed and fostered around issues related to their children’s education.
“What Does Doing Well Really Mean?”
One of the workshops was, “What Does Doing Well Really Mean?” which focused on how people can tell whether or not they have learned something. IDRA conducted the workshop with parents, and later with a group of educators who are family outreach coordinators. The results with both groups were similar.
In the workshop, each participant responded to a series of questions concerning something he or she does well. The question, “What is something that you do well?” brought out interesting responses:
- Listening skills: “Students come to me when they need assistance and they also refer their friends.”
- Organization skills: “Others rely on me; I am enthusiastic and knowledgeable.”
- Planning and organizational skills: “Outcomes are good evidence,” “Results and outcomes are evidence.”
- Listening skills: “Others find me attentive and easy to talk to,” “I am easy to talk to; results and feedback are evidence.”
- Good at-risk counselor: “The number of students referred to me.”
- Good Ropes course instructor: “I have been instrumental in instituting the course at my campus.”
- Gardener: “Finished product is good.”
- Cook: “Product is good evidence.”
- Seamstress: “Made dresses for weddings and special occasions.”
- Cook: “Made the best ribs in the extended family.”
- Service: “Gave good customer service on the job.”
- Counselor: “Listened well.”
Workshop leaders asked each respondent if his or her failure on a written test concerning the skill they identified would adequately reflect their competence. The answer was “no.” With each of the skills shared, participants agreed that excellence is best measured by something other than a traditional written test.
As a result of this discussion, it became clear to educators and parents that measuring competence in real life, in adult circumstances, involves providing proof through action and results, rather than providing answers to a series of questions on a test. This realization was followed by a discussion of the movement in schools toward a variety of means for measuring student competence, means that include new assessment methods, such as projects and portfolios.
Parents responded to the workshop quite positively. One parent said:
- This really helped me understand some problems my daughter was having. She kept complaining about homework and tests. Now, I have a better idea of why. A project may be a better way to find out if my daughter knows how to do something!
This training approach has worked well because it provides interaction, draws on the experience of the participants and presents numerous opportunities to validate the abilities and contributions of the parents and the educators.
Because several community-based organizations participate in the project, meetings take place at various times on alternate days in order to better accommodate parents’ work schedules and child care needs. In addition, all materials used and disseminated in the parent workshops are bilingual (written in Spanish and English). The use of bilingual materials that are interactive and free of jargon make the workshops inviting for all parents, regardless of language ability or level of education.
Benefits and Outcomes of the Project
The IDRA Community Leadership for Standards-Based Reform project has been funded for two years, and the projected benefits and outcomes are meaningful and will be long-lasting. While adults in the community serve as the project’s primary participants, the children in the community receive the ultimate benefits. As a result of parents’ increased awareness of and interest in school-related issues, students will perform better in school.
Specific projected outcomes for the project include the following:
Increased community awareness concerning academic standards.
Awareness and understanding of academic standards and implications. Parents, community members and educators will be more informed about academic standards and their implications. Since these individuals all play an important role in the education of children, their knowledge and understanding will help increase student success in school. As taxpayers and citizens, individuals have an obligation to know about issues that affect their community, especially those that affect children. Widespread community awareness of how academic standards affect students will enable the whole community to meet the challenges that systemic changes bring to students and their families.
Community accountability for children. The project’s design makes information about academic standards accessible to the whole community, thereby making each individual accountable for the successful schooling of everyone’s children. As a community member, every individual in Corpus Christi is responsible for ensuring that students leave the public school system competent and able to meet the challenges of post-secondary education and the job sector. Parents, educators, community leaders and business leaders all share responsibility for supporting one another and providing students with the adequate time, attention and resources needed for meeting future challenges.
Parent advocacy and leadership. Many parents do not take an active role in school-related activities and issues for various reasons, some of which are limited English proficiency, work schedules, an unwelcoming school environment and/or a sense of intimidation. Participation in the project’s workshops affords parents an opportunity to learn about and discuss issues related to their children’s education, namely academic standards. They allow parents to learn from and empower one another in a non-threatening, supportive environment.
The project achieves parent empowerment by having parents grow comfortable with particular issues and with each other through discussion and mutual support. The role of the parent is continually validated, and parents gain access to information they can use to make more informed decisions concerning their children’s education. As a result, they will be able to communicate more effectively with teachers and administrators about their children.
One of the greatest challenges facing the project thus far has been parent recruitment and participation. As noted previously, various factors hinder parents’ involvement in their children’s educational experience. IDRA’s experience and research (outlined in the publication, Hispanic Families as Valued Partners: An Educator’s Guide) tells us that, oftentimes, parents simply are not valued by schools as partners in their children’s education (Robledo Montecel, et al., 1993). Encouraging parents to attend yet another meeting is not always an easy task. The number of parents participating in project workshops thus far has been small. However, participating parents have had valuable opportunities to learn and share in small interactive groups.
As the project continues, the number of participating parents will increase as a result of more effective outreach conducted by the school personnel and community-based organizations. However, the small-group, interactive, parent-friendly, bilingual approach will remain an essential element for the workshops’ effectiveness.
There is a need for greater awareness of academic standards in Corpus Christi. As the country moves toward reforming the current education system, a greater need will exist for informing communities about academic standards and other systemic changes, as well as what those changes mean for the students and parents. As the responsibility for effective schooling expands throughout the community, resources will also be expanded and there will be better support for students’ success.
Robledo Montecel, M. and A. Gallagher, A. Montemayor, A. Villarreal, N. Adame-Reyna, J. Supik. Hispanic Families As Valued Partners: An Educator’s Guide. (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1993).
Oanh Maroney is a research assistant in the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Aurelio Montemayor is lead trainer in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to them by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1997, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 1997 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.]