Over a dozen concerned parents advocating unity within the Paterson schools and community attended the parent advocacy workshop held on Thursday night at the Market Street office of the Parent Education Organizing Council (PEOC).
Community engagement specialist Rebecca Fernandez of the non-profit organization established a distinction between assertiveness and aggressiveness towards teachers, principals, and board members in order to promote child growth.
Six basic skills of effective advocacy discussed during the power point presentation were:
1. Know what you are advocating for
2. Know the key players
3. Know your rights
4. Get well organized
5. Use clear and effective communication
6. Know how to resolve disagreements.
“Research shows, without question, across the board, for many years that when the parents are involved and engaged with the school and with the school system everything goes up,” Fernandez told the Paterson Times.
Past studies from the Southwest Education Development Laboratory show that parents involved in their child’s schooling are more likely to earn higher test scores and grades.
“The quality of education goes up, and our school testing scores go up so when our parents know how to engage and know exactly how they can get the information needed from the schools, and knowing how the school system works, our parents are [then] aware of it functioning properly. “
Parents voiced their need for community initiatives. Each attendee expressed their fear of retaliation from school administrators when they publicly mention their apprehensions during board meetings.
“The principal knew I was getting involved with the school and attending all the board meetings, so they tried to stop that. I found that disrespectful,” said Audrey Jackson, parent advocate for autistic students.
“It’s just a very traumatizing experience being back in this environment and to spiritually and physically see that [the school system] is not getting any better,” said Connie Haywood, mother of a School 13 student. “My concern is that if the children are the future, how could they be the future if this is the environment they are going to expect?”
Latest SAT scores from October 2014 has only 19 students college ready out of 594 exam takers, Fernandez pointed out. “Are our students college ready?’” she asked.
Fernandez led the presentation in front of approximately 15 mostly parents telling them how to get involved while highlighting some of the major hurdles city students face.
“Paterson is no stranger to crime, to hunger, to homelessness. These are issues that are very real for the parents in the community and these are issues the school system needs to be prepared to overcome,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez has been an active advocate for breakfast after the bell for all students in the public schools. The district has rolled out morning breakfast programs where students get an early morning meal during the first period of class.
The how-to advocacy workshop comes at a time when the district has significantly reduced its budget from $596 million last fiscal year to $568 million this fiscal year. The reduction results in the elimination of 363 jobs, including 197 teaching positions. Program cuts are expected as a result of the budget reduction.
“When we continue to cut support services such as athletics, possibly arts and music again, and have less adequate teachers in our classrooms, we’re not able to make sure our children are getting the education they need,” said Fernandez.