Family Engagement is the kindred key that unlocks the dawning door to higher quality education for our trusting children. Making certain our children receive it, is ultimately the parents'/guardians' responsibility. We choose various vehicles based upon our beliefs and circumstances to accomplish that. Whether we choose the vehicle of public education, private education or homeschooling, we can not send our child through either of those doors and throw away the key. We must be involved to help steer, make decisions, manage, oversee, intercede, alter course, offer discourse, embellish resources/offerings and more. It is not always easy, but neither is going through life without a quality education.
It is simply not a realistic expectation that the schools will do everything with perfection and in isolation to deliver a world class and competitive education. Our children and our schools need our involvement and with this interaction, students largely do better. We must be champions of change to change our students into champions!
Our involvement best starts at home with reading to our children. I started reading early with my children and I vehemently believe this foundation shows. Many children start kindergarten unprepared. According to Reading is Fundamental (RIF), Jumpstart and others, early education is one of the best indicators of a child's success. There are myriad opportunities to volunteer at most schools. Through organizations like Parent Teacher Association (PTA), I have enjoyed helping with Russell Independent Schools' book fairs, Jump Rope for Heart, teacher appreciation luncheons, hearing and vision screenings, mentoring in reading or math, helping in the classroom as Homeroom Mom, writing legislators, Fall Carnivals, chairing Kentucky Kids' Day with science middle and high schoolers explaining their science winning exhibits to our elementary students, and so much more! Once you are involved, you might observe that there are some things that do not exist, that you would like to see happen.
As our Northeast Kentucky(NEKY) PTA president I recently started a Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) at our high school, after soliciting the support of our school council. PTSA's promote student involvement in leadership and problem solving as well as parental and teacher involvement in advocacy. We need to be involved in our high schools. Once we positively change our Involvement, it's easier to Identify changes and obtain Information needed to change the Interaction of various educational components. I call this keeping at least six I's on your "pupils" - with these four I's plus your two eyes, "the I's and eyes have it"!
I am also an advocate for gifted education. Parents must help to make sure their children at all skill levels are challenged, supported and engaged. I served as president for our Northeast Kentucky Association for Gifted Education (NEKAGE) where once we had a math guru from Northern Kentucky University sharing her love of math. She enlightened us on applying differential instruction - which simply means teaching and learning with differing skill levels in the same classroom. This helped parents to understand how they could better help their children in this seemingly daunting area while also offering professional development credit for teachers to better understand how to implement this challenging task. The hosting Ashland Community and Technical College's president shared remarks as a Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) supporter. The youth was also able to see more of the joy of math as we had high school students sharing how they used math in their award winning physics projects. Through sharing your time, energy and ideas, you learn more and your confidence to "create opportunities" can take you to another level.
After completing training with our Commonwealth Institute of Parent Leadership (CIPL), a national model which focuses on transforming parents into educational partners equipping us with tools, I donated a grant I received to our middle school science department to purchase needed equipment. Then I offered a five week after school course in their Imagine program, that I called, "Sci-tech"(for science and technology) while partnering with the Russell Area Technology Center (RATC) who provided excellent teachers and facilities. Students took apart computers, did computer-aided drafting, built a battery and more. We also had speakers in different fields such as Optometry and Surgery. I later turned it into an after school club.
We also took a trip to a hands-on science center, COSI in Ohio, and other local places to see the technology or science in laparoscopic equipment at OLB Hospital, their Vitality Center, the TV station, etc. I founded a small non-profit group, United Communities to Advance our Neighborhoods, Inc (UCAN) and we co-sponsored a summer camp with NEKAGE while partnering with the RATC again. This wonderful center made my daily job as camp director go smoothly and my older son, Jim, assisted me with lunch and errands! "Camp Revamp" included much of the above plus taught welding & safety, Excel spreadsheets, budgeting, and more. Campers used Photoshop to design their own T-shirts and mouse pads while using software to help design their own certificates. The TV news station covered our camp after reading about it in our newspaper. Again, I simply connected relationships I had built through volunteering and by sharing common interests while utilizing readily available resources, eagerly awaiting further usage. Everyday is a fresh opportunity to refresh our participation in student achievement. I'm working on developing a Green Action Resource and Business (GRAB) camp and a Youth Advocacy and Leadership Event (NEKY YALE) with hopes to do a short basketball camp with a "special" guest within a year or so. I'm investigating the need and interest to start a Special Education PTA (SEPTA) in NEKY also.
I've also toured many of our schools sharing Kwanzaa and using the art form of dramatic storytelling where I shared Black/American history from Plessy vs. Ferguson through the civil rights movement while interweaving curriculum. Between the laughter and the tears, I can throw in tidbits on nutrition and inventors without the students "being the wiser" that they are learning so much, yet being wiser for it. There are so many fun ways to help and to be involved, just by sharing your interests, talents or passions! I love math, science, technology, reading, writing, the arts, social studies, helping, but most of all, I love people-children, parents, families, teachers, administrators, the staff, politicians, churches and the "community". Truly, "It takes a village". Positively involved parents can make a difference in children's appreciation and understanding of important subjects, their joy for school and learning as well as advance their self-exploration, potential career interests and communication skills. All of this is important as we make sure our students are learning what is needed in the common core standards adopted by many states to help to prepare our children and "future adults" for the twenty-first century and beyond. Trust me, simply try volunteering minimally at least three hours during the school year - it can be a lunch break here and there. Some companies even support volunteerism. If you work outside of the home, discuss it with your supervisor. If you simply can't, email or write letters to your legislators from home. As U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stated at Parenting Magazine's Mom Congress 2011 in Washington, DC, “Your voice, your passion, your fierce advocacy is what the country has been missing,”
Start at your own pace, but do start! Our children are trusting us to lay the groundwork for a great future. If we want others to invest "millions"in our children's education, then surely we can invest some "minutes to win it" and even years. It is so fulfilling and rewarding that you will likely receive more than you give. If the entire family can't volunteer at school, then the family can still be supportive of the child's efforts at home, as well as support the efforts of the volunteer. I am so grateful for our family's support! If you would like to learn more to help you to take your next step, please visit our website at ucanchange.webs.com. You are not alone. UCAN, Inc.'s motto is, "YOU CAN Change the World and Together We Must!" If a great future is desired for us, it must be inspired by us. We are the ingredients to the recipe for creating "greatness" in our children, our country and our world - for We are the Arts, Our children grow by Science, now YOU Can do the Math! Now, "Let's Move!"
Brenda Drummer Martin is the 2011 Mom Congress delegate from Kentucky. She originally wrote this post for the White House Champions of Change series.