With so many extremist attacks on public education, it is energizing to hear about parents working in their communities to support public education.

Below is an excerpt from an AFT voices article about just that. The article in full is here.

Kourtney Revels’ expectations aren’t unreasonable: A teacher in every classroom. A PTA. And maybe clean up that drainage ditch outside the elementary school. But as the parent of a public school student in a neglected neighborhood in Houston, Revels’ goals have so far been out of reach.

Until now. Revels is one of thousands of people who will be touched by the AFT’s Powerful Partnerships Institute, a program distributing $1.5 million in grants that connect educators with families and community members. Working with Community Voices for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the Houston Federation of Teachers, she now has more support as she works to improve her neighborhood school and community.

Meanwhile, the Houston Educational Support Personnel, which represents AFT maintenance staff, bus drivers and food service workers, is connecting with organizations like the Urban Kitchen food bank, Más Clínicas for health services and Legends and Legacies, a group that works with children whose parents are incarcerated. Together they are utilizing a separate PPI grant to provide basic services to children in their schools — things like shoes for their feet and deodorant for their growing bodies — and perhaps more importantly to assure young people that they are seen and cherished.

You want parent and community involvement at your school? Get to know the people in your area and the stakeholders in your school, listen to them and meet them where they are.

That’s Ruth Kravetz’s approach. A retired teacher and the Community Voices for Public Education lead on the PPI project with the Houston Federation of Teachers, she taps the experts — the community members themselves — to find out what neighborhoods need, then partners with them to help make it happen. She has recruited a team of parent fellows to do the organizing themselves, with support and stipends from CVPE, HFT and the PPI grant."

“Really I’m just trying to bring in my peers,” says Revels, who is 31. She talks to them at the school bus stop, where bus service is so sporadic parents wait up to two hours for their children to arrive from school. She and Kravetz walked through run-down parks and met older folks who complained about the uneven walkways.

Revels says parents have been intimidated at schools where they are treated as if they are “stupid” because they’re unfamiliar with school policy and jargon. “Oftentimes I see parents that just are getting blamed and bashed for just not knowing,” she says. “One of the things I’ve tried to do is bring the energy of, ‘you can come as you are.’”

That invitation seems to have worked. “I am extremely hopeful,” says Revels. “I do feel like the moms and the people I’ve met are really receptive.”

It’s making a difference

These PPI partnerships are building on existing relationships, fortifying the good work that is already underway. Revels is finally seeing a new playground go up, the first neighborhood advocacy project she started two years ago. She’s secured funding from Houston to clean up the ditch in front of her daughter’s school. And parents have given powerful testimony at school board meetings where important policy is determined.

In one case, they rallied against establishing a new charter school that would have robbed resources from the local public school; HFT President Jackie Anderson says their efforts were crucial to killing the proposal. Anderson has worked with CVPE on fighting back a state takeover of the district, school closures and charter expansion; parents encouraged by CVPE have also spoken in support of teacher raises and for the Texas AFT Respect and Dignity campaign.

“The only way children can learn is if teachers are supported, and the only way teachers are supported is if parents and teachers collaborate and if the pay structures and the environment in which teachers work is reasonable,” says Kravetz. “None of that will happen if parents are left outside the schoolhouse door and teachers are working in a vacuum.”

This story was written by AFT communications specialist Virginia Myers. 

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