At the end of last year KinderCare (a division of Knowledge Universe) ran a contest on the Mom Congress site to honor a mom for her involvement in advocating for better education in her local schools.
Brenda Drummer Martin won a book station from KinderCare after submitting an essay about how she serves in her community, everything from reading to her children to chairing major events and leading local educational organizations. She is amazing!
I recently caught up with Brenda for an interview and found her to be incredibly humble and positive. Here’s what she had to say:
Me: What’s the first thing you remember doing as a parent volunteer at school?
Brenda: I've been volunteering for so many years, that it's hard to remember..... I started just coming to the school to have lunch with my sons and I would chaperone trips. My oldest son enjoyed when I would come to school while his brother would look around as though he didn't see me. I conducted a parent workshop at the school. I would go to district school board meetings periodically, then helped in the library. I would go to the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) meetings and find out about other projects with which to help. My first big leap was running for the School Based Decision Making council. I was pleasantly surprised when I won! I didn't win all of my campaigns, but we all win when we try to make a positive difference in the life of a child. Parental engagement helps to promote more student engagement and extends the bridge needed to foster a more productive team with the school.
Me: What can parents do right now to advocate for their children’s education? At home or at school?
Brenda: Advocating can be a full time job or just be something as simple as reading to your child. I believe that advocacy starts at home. I have found that early education is so important to a child's enthusiasm, abilities, confidence and more. Anyone who speaks up for another with his/her best interest at heart is an advocate. Other forms of advocacy include: helping with homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, making sure your child is receiving challenging work, and making sure your child goes to school prepared in mind, body, spirit and with the necessary tools. Attending board meetings periodically, helping at the school, watching for signs of bullying or disinterest are very important. A function of advocacy is to communicate with decision makers to inform, educate, persuade or increase the level of awareness about an issue. It's valuable to share information about your child with the teacher as well as to seek clarification when labels are used regarding your child, such as "special education", "gifted", etc. It's important to be familiar with many, if not all, of the rules governing the decisions used to place your child in various curriculum routes so that you will know when your child might need rechanneling. This equips a parent to intercede and redirect the swift moving train of education along the right track. One example, is that early on, my child was missing a few points on an IQ test used to identify "giftedness". I requested a meeting with our gifted education coordinator to better understand how this all worked and received more documentation. I realized my son met the criteria that a child is "gifted" if he/she scores in the 9th stanine in a subject on an achievement test-this is called "Specific Academic Aptitude". My son, Cameron, had scored in the 99th percentile, and met the criteria. Our gifted education coordinator agreed with me. This was so encouraging for me to see how my involvement and being informed made a positive difference for my child. Being labeled "gifted" wasn't the key but making sure that my child received the challenging curriculum and experiences that he needed was crucial. I also developed so much respect for our gifted education coordinator and I wanted to help work with other parents of gifted students. I ended up becoming the president of our Northeastern Kentucky Association for Gifted Education.
Me: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about education in this country, what would you change?
Brenda: You ask such excellent questions. I would change the way teachers are trained to make certain they know how to "convey" information in a way that is most effective for each child and in way that "creates and accentuates" understanding, curiosity, effective application and thirst for more knowledge! This accomplishment must transcend the teacher's pedigree and tenure as well as the student's culture, financial background, gender or disability.
Me: Name one thing you think is going right in American education.
Brenda: I am so encouraged by the recently developing idea of common core standards. It is so important that everyone including teachers, parents and administrators know what the students are expected to learn at each grade level as we're striving to educate each student in a twenty-first century framework. This equips teachers and parents to better help each child and to seek help even when grades might not reflect that there is a big problem. This also helps teachers and students if students are transferred to a different school. They will not lose too much ground nor will they be unprepared to perform well and compete in any environment. With common core standards, it will be easier to keep each student on track to graduate well prepared to meet their subsequent endeavors. Common Core Standards help each player to better prepare for its part as musical pieces are arranged in a concert. These concerted efforts help the team to produce a harmony that benefits all in better mastering the art and science of educating a generation.
Me: How did your own parents affect your desire to be such a strong leader in your home and community?
Brenda: My parents encouraged me just by being there. Both of my parents had to work and I saw some of the situations children were able to get into. Later, when my mother stopped working, I enjoyed coming home telling her about my day. We would sometimes play board games or complete crossword puzzles together. I didn't realize it at the time, but this helped me not to worry about how many friends I had at school, etc. When I first became a mother, I was working full time, but still later found time to work in our community as vice-president of our neighborhood association. Our two sons (at the time) helped me to stuff envelopes and mailboxes. I would sometimes take off work to go on a field trip, etc. I just wanted to be there for my children, at home, school, church and our community. My husband is also very supportive, even though there were some years where his work schedule made me feel like a single mom. He understands my imperfections as well as how important it is for me to do what I do. He is a great support and reinforcement. Being a leader is the product of being a willing servant or gardener who tills the soil, plant good seeds and nurture different types of flowers so they all can bloom and become useful in the best and most aesthetic way. Our children are those flowers.