Coming from a background of Early Childhood Education it is important to note that education begins in the home with the age of birth to three being the most absorbent period of development for the child. Proper nutrition and an environment rich with learning opportunities is so important in setting the stage for the child's future. Eye contact and communicative interaction plays a great role in the development of vocabulary.
I come from Fort Worth, Texas, where a visionary of a superintendent, Dr. Melody Johnson, first strengthened efforts in parent and community engagement and added efforts in student engagement and success. With the help of this team and my executive board, I travel into schools across the district teaching parents how important it is for them to be involved in the education of their children and giving them the tools and support to work with principals and faculty to bring to the students enrichment to the academic environment. My district provides the translation support we need in this work. When parents, and by this I mean all the adults around the student including those in the community, are involved in the education process they send a very strong message to the child - how important education is and that the child comes from a family who can make a difference in their community. They come from a family of leaders.
We utilize the many family friendly fundraisers offered by community partners who donate percentages of the money parents are already spending back to the schools. There are so many - Albertsons, Krogers, Tom Thumb, Reliant Electric Energy, Office Depot, On The Border, BoxTops, CiCi's... the list goes on and on. We focus our efforts on enriching student life with character development, bullying prevention, substance abuse prevention programs as well as Reading Is Fundamental, Accelerated Math and Reading, and improving the campuses with outdoor learning environments, school gardens and fitness equipment.
Our project now is implementing the Farm to School produce program which has been a pilot program in Texas for a number of years. Improving school nutrition is a must. It is necessary to better fuel the bodies and minds of the students as well as teaching them proper nutrition for life. This in addition to making sure there is time during the day to simply go outside and run, oxygenating their brains and facilitating absorption of information.
The Fort Worth Council of PTAs, underwritten by the Sid Richardson Foundation hosts a leadership conference for seventh graders every year. Along with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth we recognize each student on the stage for their art work in the fields of visual art, photography, literature, musical composition, dance choreography, video production, and environmental awareness. We believe that when a student has been honored on the stage of the Modern their confidence is elevated to believe they can accomplish greatness.
I invite you all to visit the Fort Worth ISD website. Dr. Johnson has worked hard for several years to lay the foundation for what she calls Gold Seal Programs of Choice. These programs are in all the high schools and some of the feeder schools at both middle and elementary levels. The plans is to continue to implement these programs at all levels. The principals have declared a vocational field to specialist in and have spent the last few years putting in place the equipment and personnel needed. This past February students attended fairs and applied for their programs of choice. They will exit high school prepared to enter the workforce or go on to colleges with courses in their vocational fields of choice. All along the way they will be given the opportunity to understand the difference completing college can mean to their future.
Presently what the legislators do in Austin is our main advocacy action. In 2006 legislators made a faulty decision in funding that has capped our budget in Fort Worth at a 2005 level. That decision needs to be corrected but the current funding needs to come immediately from our state's Rainy Day Fund as well as other tax loopholes. It seems a no brainer to us "common folk" that public education cannot be a political ploy. Do not balance the budget on the backs of the children! Funding public education produces the future workforce and taxpayers.
Darlene is the 2011 Mom Congress delegate from Texas. This post was originally written for the White House Champions of Change series.