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Schools train parents as advocates
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Schools train parents as advocates

Heather Boykin spends her afternoons helping lead after-school activities for St. John Community Development Corporation’s Save a Youth program.

In her role, Boykin acts as a liaison between teachers and the organization. She also acts as a liaison between parents and the organization and, ultimately, parents and school teachers.

It’s a balancing act. But Boykin said after sitting through the parent advocacy training offered by Wilson County Schools last week that the more information she has the better she feels.

Boykin and the team working with St. John deal with at-risk children. They try to get parents involved in what’s happening with their children’s education. She tracks students’ grades and progress, helps with homework.

Boykin said she feels like she was leaving the training with a lot of information she can use. Boykin said she could relate to the discussion about road blocks to parent engagement.

The more she learns about the families of the children she works with, the more Boykin is learning to understand some of the road blocks they face.

The training session was one of the first big presentations by school officials offered to members of the faith community. The idea is that those attending the workshop will go back to their congregation or community group and hold their own parent advocacy workshop. Last week’s session was led by Eric Davis, assistant superintendent for business operations for Wilson County Schools.

Identified road blocks parents might face include a lack of time, child care issues, their work schedule, feeling intimidated, not feeling welcome in their child’s school, a lack of transportation, language and cultural differences, not understanding how the school system works, feeling like they don’t belong at their child’s school, and not being sure how they can participate in their child’s education.

For Davis, helping parents learn to advocate for their children is about "arming people” with the knowledge they need.

But Davis told the group that parent advocacy is more than participating in an event or positive responses to a survey. It’s the daily work and steps parents take to support their child’s learning.

Davis stressed that school officials have a "huge responsibility” in creating an environment where parents feel comfortable advocating for their children. He also reiterated that anyone advocating for family engagement must have these four core beliefs in order to be effective.

• All parents have dreams and want the best for their children.

• All parents have the capacity to support their child’s learning.

• Parents and school staff have to be equal partners.

• The responsibility of building partnerships rests primarily with school staff, especially school leaders.

"We have to outreach to families,” Davis said.

When parents leave these training sessions that will be offered throughout the community, the goal is that they will have created a parent action plan and have tips and ideas that will help them solve whatever issues their child might be facing in school.

Each participant last week was provided with a flash drive containing the parent advocacy training documents and links to videos the district has created showing parents and school leaders how to work through issues together and how to better communicate.

Wilson County Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson said they can have someone from the school system come out and help people deliver a parent advocacy workshop if needed.

On March 29 at Jackson Chapel Baptist Church at 9:30 a.m., a Project Serve meeting will be held. This is a new initiative between the school district, faith community and Wilson Education Partnership to link schools with the faith community.

Davis said some of the information discussed in the training will be reiterated to those attending the Project Serve session. | 265-7822
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