Do You See What I See?

“Do you see what I see?  Do you hear what I hear?”   With the holiday season upon us and carols in the air, these particular lyrics are echoing in my head.  Every day, I have the chance to connect with people from many different walks of life.  So much of what we see, what we hear, what we know, is based on our individual experiences.  I’ve been amazed at how many multiple perspectives of the same situation can exist and represent “the truth.” As a new year approaches, I am reflecting on what I’ve had a chance to witness.  I continue to be concerned at the disparities I see.  And yet, I hear, from both those living through incredibly challenging struggle and those living into immense opportunity, there is a deep, shared desire to create a healthy, safe, productive and prosperous community.  When I read these NY Times articles “Good Poor, Bad Poor”  and “Inequality, Indian Style” , I was struck by how important it is to walk in the shoes of others.  Here’s to making progress in 2014…

Developing Leadership – Building Relationships One Person at a Time…

IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS — that has been the defining lesson for me throughout the past year.   I’ve been putting much of my energy into helping to develop Parents for Change groups — you can learn more about this work on our website.  This work is a partnership of Voices for Vermont’s Children & Vermont Interfaith Action and is part of the Winooski-Burlington Partnership for Change.  We have followed a tried and true grassroots community-organizing approach and have both received training and provided training based on the PICO model.  It has been a tremendous year of learning.   It’s been incredible to work with parents, family members, youth and recent high school graduates from many different countries and economic backgrounds.  Our leadership and organizing efforts focus on bringing together folks who have felt marginalized or disconnected from our schools.  I’m excited that we are making progress…

How can we eradicate poverty?

I try to keep my eye out for strategies that focus on people building their own capacity to create change.  I was intrigued by these two articles:

  • Paul Tough lays out a fascinating history on how Obama’s early beliefs about anti-poverty work have yet to be translated into expansive policy and resources “What Does Obama Really Believe?”   I still hope Obama will find more substantive ways to realize the the potential of his convictions  as expressed by this quote“If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community.”
  • Boston Globe article about families creating their own solution as part of the Family Independence Network –  “Programs Help Families Create Their Own Solutions”   I hope to learn more about the Family Independence Network

Parents Help Lead School Change

The last year has been an amazing journey.  I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with new parent leaders in Burlington and Winooski as we begin a journey together to create a network  to ensure that every student thrives — in and outside of school.   Every day, I get to connect with parents about what matters most — their children.  I’m excited to be working with:

Integrating Schools — Creating More Connected Communities

Community conversations about socio-economic integration of students in our schools spurred me to become an education organizer 5 years ago.   I’ve come to be even more convinced that a healthy society depends upon people from all backgrounds connecting and developing relationships.   A few years ago, Burlington launched magnet schools for similar reasons discussed in this  recent American Prospect article about Omaha’s unique integration plan.  I’m intrigued by Omaha’s approach.  I believe the key is giving choice to parents and students within the public school system, and opportunities to find the school that best matches their child’s learning style, needs, and interests.

Nothing says it better than words of student themselves.  I’m inspired by Ariana, a student in Omaha who chose to go the more diverse, urban school over the one in her more affluent suburban town.

 As Ariana puts it, “My dad saw the worst in this area.” Now, almost four years later, he’s convinced she made the right choice.

Ariana has clearly thrived at Central, where she plays golf and tennis, and participates in the honors music society. She was accepted to every college to which she applied. With the exception of Spanish and aerobics, she takes all Advanced Placement courses. She even won a $10,000 college scholarship from Coca-Cola with an essay about tutoring her peers from Asia, Mexico, and the Sudan. “I have gained insurmountable respect for these students who fight through adversity,” she wrote in the essay. “The privilege of working with students unlike myself has humbled me. Without venturing beyond my suburban community, I would have missed the valuable life lessons found here.”

Four Things NYC Schools Are Doing

Attending a workshop with Ms. Hall of NYC Schools — who reflects on the question  “How is NYC helping “Moms.”

1. Family Listening Sessions – started by meetings with groups of 20 parents whose voices are least heard.  Sitting with the families you want to reach, and listening to families stories, understanding what they need in their schools and how to reach them.

2. Parent Teacher Conference Framework – “IT ALL STARTS WITH THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CLASSROOM TEACHER.”  NYC is working to develop a parent-teacher conference framework that helps families.

3. Toolkit for Families to map their Communities (find information about the best schools, after school programs, child care centers).  The goals it to provide equal access to information and opportunities to all families.

4.  Tools to help families understand the common core standards and resources to help families help their children

NYC’s Ojeda Hall – Meet Families Where They Are At: Building Trust

Ojeda Hall, Director for Family Information and Action in the NYC Department of Education shared some compelling insights about how she has worked with families to create safer neighborhoods and design a school that reflected their priorities.

To start, she met with families about their primary concerns and priorities for their kids’ education.  She shared two stories that highlight the importance of meeting families where they are at.  In one neighborhood in East New York, she heard from families that the school was doing a pretty good job, but families were very concerned about the safety in the neighborhood.  She helped facilitate families coming together to develop safety councils,  safety patrols, providing information to police and working together  to create safer neighborhoods

In Jamaica, Queens, Ms. Hall went to a big local church, and talked to parents and teachers about what they’d like to see happen in education.  This led to the creation of a new school.  Parents, teachers and local community leaders met weekly in the church basement to help create the school.

So, what was the major takeaway from Ms. Hall?  After my two years in grad school, Ms. Hall summed up the conclusion I’ve reached in one sentence. “There has to be a building up of relational trust between the adults involved in a child’s life.”  To make a difference and take action to help all kids succeed, people need to know each other, understand what’s important to each other.  Developing relationships is at the heart of this work.  As Ms. Hall spoke, I heard my passion reflected in her words.  No surprise – Ms. Hall is a community organizer.

I’m excited to learn more about NYC’s Office of Family Information and Action, and to learn from their resources.

I hope to learn more about how Ms. Hall has done this as I help create strong family-school-community partnerships.

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