Paving the way toward greater parent engagement

Marta Burnet
Marta Burnet

By Marta Burnet

How can I help my child do better in school?

That’s a question many of us grapple with as parents—and one that was raised at a recent Spanish curriculum night offered at Apollo Elementary School in Renton. It’s a question that becomes even more daunting for parents who do not speak English.

Taking action to help your own children does not, however, need to be insurmountable. That’s why the Apollo PTA has spent the last year-plus finding ways to overcome barriers for these families and welcome their involvement in their children’s education.

As a part of our PTA goal of broadening family involvement, we devised three objectives:

  1. Increase native language (L1) materials available to non-native-English-speaking families.
  2. Make L1 resources about Apollo available.
  3. Engage families, so that we can answer questions, spread resources, and get feedback.

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Activist of the Month: Beth Sigall

Doorbelling for Senator Hill. From left: Beth Sigall, Dawn McCravey, Betsy Cohen, Janet Suppes, (unknown), and Sen. Steve Litzow.
Doorbelling for Senator Hill. From left: Beth Sigall, Dawn McCravey, Betsy Cohen, Janet Suppes, (unknown), and Sen. Steve Litzow.

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for December: Beth Sigall. Read more about Beth’s work this fall campaigning for Senator Andy Hill.

You may remember Beth Sigall from April, when she was selected as one of three Activists of the Month in our first-ever “team” award. We honored her in April for her work during the 2014 legislative session, and we’re thrilled to honor her again for her work during the 2014 midterm elections.

Up until now, Beth’s involvement in political campaigns has been limited to policy advising on education issues or work on local levy and bond campaigns. Because she had worked closely with Senator Hill on education over the course of his term, it seemed like a logical next step to get involved directly, on the ground, in his re-election effort. Read More

Activist of the Month: Adel Sefrioui

Adel SefriouiAt the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for November: Adel Sefrioui. Read more about Adel’s work developing Excel Public Charter School, which will open in Kent in 2015.

Adel Sefrioui is the son of immigrant parents. His father emigrated from Morocco in the early ’70s and his mother from Iran shortly before the 1979 revolution. While his parents came to the United States for different reasons—his father, to pursue the “American dream,” and his mother, to escape tyranny in her home country—they both came from cultures that highly value education. Both Persian and Moroccan cultures share the belief that education can be the great equalizer in society. Read More

Activist of the Month: Quontica and Marlando Sparks

Quontica & Marlando SparksAt the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activists of the Month for October: Quontica and Marlando Sparks. Read more about their experience advocating for parent engagement and their plans to open a public charter school for at-risk youth in Pasco.

Quontica and Marlando Sparks first testified about education in Washington state this past April, when they spoke about the impact of school discipline on families they worked with. But their involvement in education advocacy started much earlier. Read More

Activist of the Month: Maria Estrada

Maria Estrada testifies in Olympia on the new discipline law in April 2014.
Maria Estrada testifies in Olympia on the new discipline law in April 2014.

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for September: Maria Estrada. Read more about her experience as an advocate for all kids, including her daughter, Paulina Zepeda (our March 2014 Activist of the Month).

Maria Estrada believes in parent engagement. She believes in it so strongly that she’s worked with Donald Bender, Migrant Academic Service Coordinator for ESD 105, to write a series of curricula on parent engagement. But it’s one thing to write curricula and another entirely to take action on it. Maria testified at the public hearing at the State Board of Education meeting in Spokane in July on that very topic.

Maria says that parent engagement is key to student success. “When parents are engaged, they can help their children make decisions about their future and successfully achieve their dreams. Parents should trust their children and love them, of course, but they also need to stay engaged. In doing that, they not only help their own children, they help all children.” Read More

Activist of the Month: Connie Gerlitz

Connie Gerlitz with her son Jordan
Connie with her son Jordan

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for August: Connie Gerlitz. Read more about her experience as a long-time advocate for all kids.

Connie Gerlitz got her start in advocacy through her work at Safeco Insurance “way back,” she says, where she worked to improve safety standards for children. She worked with the Legislature to fight for laws around things like seatbelts for children, car seats, and bike helmets.

Working with the Legislature gave her the confidence to speak publicly and testify on behalf of issues that she believes in, and she also gained insight into why working with the Legislature was so important.

Connie has been involved with the League of Education Voters (LEV) since its inception, and she recalls attending an exploratory meeting with LEV co-founder Lisa Macfarlane in Bellevue thirteen-some years ago. Read More

First step: Engagement. Second step: Change the world.

Micaela RazoEarlier this month, a study from the University of Washington examined ways that immigrant parents could become engaged in their child’s school when traditional methods are barriers to their involvement.

That study resonated with League of Education Voters (LEV) Community Organizer Micaela Razo, who has done much of the work mentioned in the study—both as a parent and as an organizer—by engaging parents in migrant families in eastern Washington.

We asked Micaela to tell us about her experience engaging parents in their child’s school, and she told the story of creating the first Spanish-speaking PTA in Washington state, formed two-and-a-half years ago in Grandview, and how she got there.

I became an advocate for my child when he was very young. We were living in one of the wealthiest school districts in the area and the PTA lived up to the stereotypes you hear about—that it’s just bake sales and fundraising.

But I was finding that I had to navigate the maze of school bureaucracy and learn to advocate for my child all on my own, so I decided to infiltrate the bake sales. I was the first parent of color to join the PTA. Read More

Sixty-four percent.

By Emma Margraf

Sixty-four percent of foster kids in Washington state do not graduate from high school.It was the day that Jane was brought into the principal’s office to be scared by a police officer for threatening other kids that sent me over the edge. She was in the eighth grade, being bullied, and in a downward spiral of discipline without direction or objective. I walked into the principal’s office and told him if he ever did anything like that again without calling me first I was going to sue everyone in the district. “There is a long line of people who’ve let this kid down,” I said, “and you are one of them.”

As I walked out of the school, I realized I had to be honest with myself—the status quo was never going to work. Cut to five years later and Jane and I have pretty much worked it out, with the help of friends. Quite a bit has happened that you can read about here and here. Jane’s nearing the end of her high school career and the girl who no one wanted to let out of the resource room has tested into college-level English, gotten her driver’s license, and learned to make friends and plan for her future.

According to OSPI, sixty-four percent of foster kids in Washington state do not graduate from high school.

Sixty-four percent.

They graduate at a lower rate than any other category of students—homeless kids, kids who speak limited English, children of immigrants—they all graduate at a higher rate. It’s easy to see how Jane could have been one of those statistics—some kids and parents just don’t have the fight in them to succeed. Read More

Activist of the Month: Ashley Guerra

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for July: Ashley Guerra. Read more about her experience leveraging technology to improve parental involvement in education.

The Guerra family at the June 6 State Board of Education forum. From left: From left to right, Ashley, her younger brother Julito, her mom Yelenys, and her dad Julio.
The Guerra family at the June 6 State Board of Education forum. From left: From left to right, Ashley, her younger brother Julito, her mom Yelenys, and her dad Julio.

Ashley Guerra just finished her first year of high school, so it might surprise you to hear that we chose her as our Activist of the Month for July. But it won’t surprise you for very long.

Ashley recently testified at the State Board of Education’s forum on the updated high school diploma for Washington. Her focus was parent engagement.

Her goal to increase parent engagement began as a school project at Kent-Meridian High School, which has the lowest graduation rate in Kent. Ashley and her peers decided to try to find a way to improve Kent-Meridian’s graduation rate.

After researching strategies that have been shown to improve the graduation rate, Ashley and her project group members decided to focus on parent engagement. Read More

¡ACCIÓN!

“Sending my child to school is the only way I can ensure he doesn’t have to work as hard as I do; it is the only way out for my family. But I cannot speak English, so how am I going to make sure that he succeeds in school?”

Maria Zanotti of Inspire Development Centers introduces new techniques to make at-home learning fun for both parents and children.
Maria Zanotti of Inspire Development Centers introduces new techniques to make at-home learning fun for both parents and children.

This is one of the many stories that can be heard in Yakima Valley, Washington. Yakima, located in eastern Washington and known for its lively agricultural communities and large production of hops, is also home to a large and vibrant Latino community that makes up approximately 40 percent of the population.

While public education is confusing and complicated for a lot of people, navigating the system turns out to be particularly challenging for Yakima’s Latino community, as many parents only speak Spanish and work long hours in the fields trying to provide for their families.

Thus, it came as no surprise that when registration opened at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, June 21, crowds of eager parents and family members queued up at the entrance of Sunnyside High School to participate in our summit and activist training, Parents Partnering in Education. The League of Education Voters partnered with Inspire Development Centers and the Sunnyside School District to offer the summit.

League of Education Voters' Community Organizer Micaela Razo answers questions after her crash course in Advocacy 101.
League of Education Voters’ Micaela Razo answers questions after her crash course in Advocacy 101.

Parents Partnering in Education was an all-day event that covered topics ranging from the basics of advocacy to how to best support children with special needs. By the end of the day, parents had the opportunity to attend 17 different workshops and presentations.

The children who accompanied their parents were also well taken care of. Childcare was provided in classrooms around the school in the form of an exciting day filled with arts and crafts and other fun activities, and complete with instructional sessions from trained teaching staff.

About halfway through the day’s activities, participants were invited to a special presentation by guest speaker Bernardo Ruiz, Seattle Public Schools’ School Family Partnerships and Race and Equity Director, and the League of Education Voters’ Community Organizer, Micaela Razo. The presentation was a combined effort to empower parents to take “ACCION!”

Guest speaker Bernardo Ruiz delivers his charge for parents and family members to take “ACCION!”
Guest speaker Bernardo Ruiz from Seattle Public Schools delivers his charge for parents and family members to take “ACCION!”

Bernardo told the story of his struggles as a child to achieve academic stability. He attributes his success to the hard work and determination of his mother—who herself had little education—to see him succeed. This was not an easy task but during this time Bernardo says he developed a habit for trading schools and people—from those who told him that he could not to those who told him he could.

Bernardo’s message resonated throughout the day. Fighting for equitable access to a good education will not be easy and parents, families, and students will face obstacles. However, by continuing to take action and by surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and who are fighting for the same thing, you can be heard and instigate change.

And starting on June 21, 200+ families found their voice and are ready to be heard.

Raymond Fenton is the League of Education Voters’ Field Organizing Intern this summer. He is studying rhetoric and media studies and theater at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He has a passion for social justice and is a vibrant race and ethnicity advocate and student government leader on his college campus.