Our names are Danilza, Catherine, Jairalis, and Claritza. We each have a unique story. Some of us have one child, and some have five. Some of us speak Spanish, and some speak English. Some of us are single moms, and some of us have partners. Some of us are recent immigrants, and some of us grew up in Boston. Some of our children have disabilities, and some do not. All of our children attend Boston public schools.
We all have one thing in common: we are dedicated to getting involved in our children’s schools and advocating for a better education. We’re here to tell you how we do it and to let you know that even if you feel scared or unsure or unwelcome, you can make a difference in your child’s education. Here are our top 10 tips:
- Connect with the resources that your child’s school has. If you are immigrating from another country, you might be feeling disoriented or anxious about learning a new education system and language. Find your school’s parent council, social worker, counselor, or family liaison, if there is one. Ask for support.
- Connect with community organizations that promote educational equity. Through learning others’ stories, you will realize that you are not the only person who is going through your situation, and you will not feel so alone.
- Read with your child, even if you don’t speak English. It’s just as good to read together in your home language! If they have homework in English, sit with them and ask them questions about it. Play word games with them. And if you show them that you’re trying to learn English too, it will motivate them.
- Pay attention to your child’s mental and physical health. Making friends and learning valuable social and emotional skills can be just as important as their academics. Ask them how they’re feeling. Disconnect from devices and get some fresh air. Dance and sing with them.
- Talk to other families at your child’s school. Chances are, other parents are feeling just as shy or nervous as you are. Say hi to them at pickup and drop off, and share information with them about what’s going on in the school. You don’t have to be best friends, but you might be surprised at how quickly you end up being a great support system for each other.
- Get to know your child’s teachers. Feel comfortable reaching out to them with any questions you have and praise them when they do things right (trust us, this makes a world of difference!). Don’t wait for something to go wrong to contact them. Ask them about their perspective on how you can best support your child. And don’t just talk to your classroom teacher. Meet your school’s principal, specialists, paraprofessionals, and secretary.
- Show your culture at your child’s school so your child—and all children—don’t lose their roots. No doubt your child will learn about American culture, but keeping your family’s culture alive is also extremely important. Through this, you will maintain strong family ties. Share about your heritage with your child’s school. Songs, stories, and foods are fun to share—and you and your child will get to learn about other cultures too.
- Volunteer at your child’s school, if your schedule allows. Coordinate with your child’s teacher or even another teacher at the school. Work with all the students. You will learn more about the school than you ever imagined. You will become familiar with the school’s instructional practices, and this will make it easier to help your child at home. And, there really is nothing that makes a child more proud than seeing their parent at school.
- Learn about your rights. It is always good to be aware so you can advocate when unfair things happen at your child’s school. Don’t be afraid to boldly take your concerns to school officials, including district leaders, if you are not satisfied with how your school leaders respond. Testify and protest. By raising your voice, you will contribute to improving the educational system not only for your child but also for others.
- Follow your own dreams, too. The best legacy you can give your child is seeing their parent growing and improving, achieving their goals, and finding their best self. Show your children through your example that with work, discipline, and perseverance, they can achieve their dreams.
Danilza Martinez, who moved to Boston from the Dominican Republic three years ago, works as a parent mentor in the Boston Public Schools and has one daughter. Catherine Kennedy, a mother of two children, has worked in various education settings since earning her GED at age 16 and is currently a parent mentor through St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. Jairalis Mercado is the proud mom of two daughters who love basketball and cheerleading and a parent mentor in the Boston Public Schools. Claritza Rodriguez, a parent mentor coordinator at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, has five kids, ages 4–18, who attend five different Boston public schools.
[photos: The AFT and courtesy of St. Stephen's Youth Programs]