About 150 parent leaders, educators and school administrators gathered Thursday evening at Foster High School in Tukwila for a community event hosted by Education Lab and the Road Map Project.
The event focused on the topic of parent engagement and featured a panel of five speakers: Joanna Brown and Tami Love from the Logan Square parent mentor program in Chicago; Jenn Ramirez Robson, director of strategic partnerships at Southwest Youth and Family Services in Seattle; Emijah Smith, a member of Seattle Public Schools’ School Family Partnership Advisory Committee to the Superintendent; and Edward Lee Vargas, superintendent in the Kent School District.
The Logan Square program was featured in a Dec. 8 front-page story by reporter Linda Shaw, who facilitated the panel discussion. The presentation was followed by a 45-minute Q&A session.
Much of the conversation centered on what educators and parents alike need to do to help more families feel welcome and part of the school community. Ramirez Robson, who is also involved with the Highline Public Schools Parent Advisory Committee, emphasized building a partnership takes time and sustained effort.
“Parent engagement doesn’t just happen in a meeting or two,” she said. “It takes time … and it has to be both sides.”
Patty Samora, a parent liaison at Lake Grove Elementary in the Federal Way School District, was visibly energized by the discussion.
“The idea of parent involvement is out there now. It’s becoming more transparent, with more people involved,” she said. “Parents see that and say, ‘oh, this is a real thing, not just something someone’s talking about doing.'”
While Samora said shoots of parent involvement have begun to grow at Lake Grove, the notion of Logan Square’s model — bringing moms and dads together as a cohort — was particularly inspiring to her.
“I took a lot of notes,” she said. “They can call it parent training or whatever they want, but what it really is, is breaking down barriers and connecting people to one another because when parents talk to parents it just grows. It becomes powerful.”
Santiago Armenta and Maria Rangel, parents of a middle school student in Bothell’s Northshore School District, spoke little English but said they’d gleaned a great deal of information. “We’re going to talk to other parents in Bothell about this meeting and get more of them involved,” Armenta said.
A big part of Logan Square’s success has come from the organization being able to break through language and cultural barriers that can make parents and teachers apprehensive about working together. Local panelists emphasized the need for schools to set a welcoming tone from the beginning, so parents feel comfortable reaching out and asking questions.
For Liz Chick, a director of before- and after-school programs in Tacoma, the main takeaway was making parents feel welcomed from the moment they set foot on school property.
“I’m here, trying to get some ideas for helping parents understand how important their involvement is for their child’s education, and I can see, the first five seconds are huge,” she said, promising to focus on making sure that parents are greeted outside the building and shown inside. “Just like when you go into a store like Nordstrom’s and they make you feel so welcomed.”
Christine Tran, part of a University of Washington research team working with Road Map, said she found the input from Chicago particularly edifying.
“It helped me see that these are collective concerns and needs. It’s not just a Seattle thing or a Chicago thing. It’s more of a community thing.”
— Claudia Rowe contributed to this report.