When I saw the NG RSS feed for “Community Forums” dealing with Education and other topics, my internet ears perked up. This sounded quite interesting, and I had to go check it out.
And I am so glad I did. It was amazing! In short (I’ll do my conclusion here), I was quite impressed because 1) it drew a wide variety of people, and 2) we had the opportunity to share and experience life with each other a little bit.
I’ll try to make this a cogent post – no promises. You really should get involved though.
Rose & Taylor is just north of University Ave off First, right across the street from the Champaign police station (a rather interesting location). I believe it was Mr. William Jones (the barbershop co-owner*) who opened up the night to a very crowded barbershop (approx 45 folks), giving a brief intro to some of the barbers and explaining how the idea got started. He introduced Mr. Jamar Brown who shared his passion for the school district, and then Mr. Jones introduced the emcee/moderator, Associate Professor Dr. Chris Span. Dr. Span shared some of his background and enthusiastic desire for these community forums, also introducing his colleague Dr. Adrienne Dixson.
(* I was corrected: Mr. William Jones is the co-owner along with his wife, Carla – my apologies)
I was quite impressed with those in attendance. We had parents, community members, folks representing Parkland, the University, Principals, Teachers from both school districts, a Unit 4 Board Member, Mayor Don Gerard, a Reverend or two (I think), black, brown and white. Lot’s of different and wonderful viewpoints were made, and Dr. Span did a great job of facilitating, shaping and augmenting the conversation. Excellent stuff.
Dr. Span and Dr. Dixson raised some very pertinent questions to get our grey matter going. “Why do you send your child to school?” The point was to get folks thinking about their unspoken expectations, a set of conditions that is sometimes not even realized by a parent, much less communicated to teachers or administrators. All to often, there is a disconnect between these inherent desires, which may be subconscious, that spur a parent to send a child to school and the goals ambitions of the educators, which may be to get the child to pass a test. They then asked “What do the words ‘parental involvement’ mean to you?” Another great question, and we spent a bulk of our time exploring that one.
I did not take comprehensive notes on what everyone shared; responses ranged from the vague and somewhat anonymous “you can do this or that” to the more dramatic “I’m just too busy trying to put food on the table”. What did stick out were the following things.
Dr. Span reported that the University has a Reading Center. He dropped a few names which I did not write down, and now I am unable to find anything called (literally) “Reading Center”. Perhaps “The Center for the Study of Reading”? But it does not look like general reading help, per se. I’ll have to follow up on that. In addition, school district Mentor representative Kellie Anderson spoke about Project READ, based out of Parkland, which admittedly is for students older than High School; however, a very interesting conversation was woven into this topic near the end of the meeting by which Project READ could teach the adult parent some excellent reading skills to pass to their children. It then dawned on me, in the name of “family involvement”, when encouraging a participation between parent and child on homework, why not have the child teach the parent if the parent is lacking in certain skills. Especially relevant for parent’s that might struggle in certain topic areas. How awesome would that be?!? Heck, I imagine there are things I could probably learn from my 6-year old daughter.
Several times various people mentioned the need for more mentors, more male mentors, and one well known father laid it out and said more black men mentoring children. How awesome would it be to see community members giving one-on-one support to children who struggle in the classroom? There are currently some issues with that, based on my own experience as a mentor. First, mentors are specifically told not to work on school work. Secondly, mentor time is extremely unstructured; there is a significant lack of focus, whether it be working on a particular skill or plowing through a challenging situation that inhibits learning. None the less, I am a big proponent of showing that child that they are important – that in itself, we are told, makes a huge difference. I can already see that in my own mentee – he asked why I didn’t show up over Thanksgiving break. 🙂 Which indicated to me that he had been expecting me. I heard a number of folks mention that students simply don’t feel cared for.
Another great idea to come out of this discussion what that parent’s can mentor other parents. I could easily see this is a peer support group, not unlike a mommy group, but perhaps more focused on getting involved together with the children.
One particularly impassioned gentleman spoke of his growing up experience in a rough neighborhood and how that is shaped his view on Unit 4, and he clearly laid out a few things he would like to see happen:
- pull the city police out of the schools
- increase the hours that children are in school
- increase the number of mentors
I think he had a fourth item, but I didn’t catch it. And when he says “mentors”, I believe he is talking about a tutor/mentor hybrid, a kind of student coach.
The last thing I wrote down was a challenge, a probing question from Dr. Span. What would teachers do if every single black parent showed up at school to help? We are told that teachers want parents to be involved, that parents are invited to come into the open school doors. Would be interesting, to say the least, what would happen…
I had to leave before they officially ended the meeting. Dr. Span and another gentlemen were making a point of moving the discussion to action steps, so I really do regret having to leave before those were identified and enumerated. If any of you know what they are, please let me know.
One other note. WCIA showed up and took about 5 minutes or so of footage. Not much – just enough to flash on the screen for a news blurb. It will be quite interesting to see how the media plays a role in the forums in the future.
Other Links about the barbershop “Open Forums”
more to follow, I am sure