School’s back in, and the little ones are hopping on school buses with their bookbags, preparing to gain as much knowledge from their teachers on the path to success.
Or are they?
“Parents are the first line of defense in terms of advocacy for their families and children within the schools,” Michelle K. Massie told the New Pittsburgh Courier, “and the more that we can inform and empower parents, the better they are equipped to address and challenge situations that they may think are not beneficial to their children.”
Massie is the director of research and communications for A+ Schools, an advocacy group that promotes educational equity and excellence in Pittsburgh Public Schools. The organization continuously compiles data on student achievement in PPS, and each year, publishes a report that serves as an eye-opener to parents and the general public on the precise achievement levels of all students, particularly African American students.
Speaking of parents, Massie said it’s critical that parents play a vital, active role in their children’s education. The organization’s Parent Nation program, now in its sixth year, gives parents the opportunity to converse with each other on a regular basis, while learning from A+ Schools certain intricacies of how the school system works.
Dean Richards is a member of the Parent Nation program, telling the Courier one of the primary benefits of the program is “being exposed to many different people” who are working for the betterment of children’s education. Additionally, he’s learned from A+ Schools that data published by school districts can sometimes be “misleading if you take it for face value, because there might be other factors at play.”
Richards, who had a son at Allderdice High School for two years until transferring him to Steel Valley High School this year, said the smaller student population at Steel Valley was the primary reason for his son’s transfer, and not necessarily an issue with PPS.
“I think that Pittsburgh Public Schools cares about their students,” Richards said. “They try to offer them a variety of things to do academically and in extra-curricular activities. Where there could be a stronger connection is administrative-wise, the connection between the board of directors and the teachers who are on the ground every day…(board and administrators should) get an understanding from the teacher on what they see on a daily basis,” and then create policies based on those findings, he said.
Keshia Hatten, a longtime member of the Parent Nation program, has a daughter at Dilworth Elementary School, and a son who just began attending Environmental Charter School (which is not a Pittsburgh Public School). She’s always been part of a school’s Parent Teacher Organization, but the Parent Nation program from A+ Schools “helped me come out of my shell as far as being a leader and to be more comfortable in speaking in front of a crowd,” she said.
Hatten spoke in front of the Pittsburgh Public School Board on behalf of the campaign to have nurses in Pittsburgh Public Schools all day, every day.
Hatten urged parents to become part of A+ Schools’ Parent Nation program because “they (the parents) can actually learn what they’re allowed to do in schools, such as volunteering, and being in the schools. Some schools will tell you that parents can’t do this or that, but as long as you have your clearances there’s so many things a parent can do inside the school.”
On Aug. 30-31, the Parent Nation program held a training session on Restorative Practices, commonly defined as ways to manage conflict and behavior of students and arriving at a solution that restores relationships and lessons overall out-of-school suspensions. Restorative Practices are at some Pittsburgh Public Schools, but Hatten said the Parent Nation program at A+ Schools advocates having Restorative Practices programs at all city schools.
Massie told the Courier the next training session will focus on effective parent/teacher conferences, Sept. 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Blakey Center, 1908 Wylie Ave.
“We found that there’s an intimidation factor” for parents when they face their child’s teacher. “It’s usually a one-sided conversation and we’re trying to make it in a way that is more proactive and productive so that parents can ask the right questions to truly find out how their children are doing,” Massie said.
More training sessions on other specific topics are scheduled in October, November and December.
Parents can register for the Sept. 20 free training session, even if the parent is not a member of the Parent Nation program, by calling 412-697-1298, ext. 113. Refreshments will be served.
Overall, Hatten told the Courier it’s “empowering” to see the “more than 50 parents” she works with at the Parent Nation program. And the parents are coming “from different parts of the city. Everyone has the same concerns, not just for their kids—we’re concerned about all the kids.”
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