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White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans

by Bettina Vance-Johnson Mocha Moms, Inc. National Director of Chapter Affairs and Relations

White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans shared strategies on how to make the best out of the upcoming school year. Guest shared their perspectives on ways to partner with educators, scholars and the community at large to ensure African American youth have access to high quality education.
One thing that was consistent among all guests was the importance of a strong relationship between teachers and parents.  Through this relationship, parents and teachers can set clear expectations for the student and provide an environment for communication and feedback. It is also important to be present at your child's school by either volunteering in the classroom or taking part in the parent/teacher association. These activities give the parent first hand experience in the school's administration and application of its polices and processes.
Marilyn Tillman, Executive Director Gwinnett SToPP provided specific ideas in support of teacher/parent relationships. Tillman says parents should check in regularly with the teacher, do not wait for the teacher to call with issues. She also encourages teachers to reach out to parents even when there are positive behaviors and/or accomplishments by the student.
Tillman also recommends reviewing your child's records every year. Insist on obtaining a copy of the confidential record as well. This ensures that, what is actually being communicated to you on behalf of your child coincides with the content of those records. Tillman strongly suggest that parent ask lots of questions of the school officials, observe them prior to enrolling your child. She notes, "you wouldn't send your child to another's home before checking them out, why not do the same for the school. Your child will spend most of their day, five (5) days a week in that building, you should feel comfortable with them there."
Additional tips by Tillman: homework should be a reinforcement, not a teaching concept; extra-curricular activities are important, as they provide downtime for the child; and always talk about concerns with the teacher outside of the child's earshot.
Tillman shared specific tips are for the teacher/school administration: don't marginalize parents, don't employ tokenism, and your programming should be culturally sensitive-it should match your school's population. Be welcoming.  Respect and listen to the parent(s) even if they don't understand your 'jargon' or speak standard english. "Because we don’t understand or are unable to articulate our concerns clearly does not minimize our involvement in our child's education", says Tillman.
Tillman was clear in noting that the school should understand that to parents, their child's education is extremely important, "if a child is unsuccessful it bares a burden on both the family and community. The experiences a child receives, while a student, can be life changing and life altering.
This platform by the White House Initiative on educational excellence for African American youth did not forget to share the perspective of a student.  Jade Malonga, 12th grader at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, did an excellent job in highlighting specific tips to support the engagement of students and school administrator/educators.
Jade strongly urges student to visit their advisors in 9th grade and not to wait. She notes, "even if you don't know what you want to do after high school, talk to them early and regularly so that you always know your options as well as your grades." She states, she didn't know how important it was to monitor her GPA until it was potentially too late." She does not want that to happen to any student. Jade's advise to students is to stay motivated. She understands that there are may distractions, but believes motivation keeps you focused.
Jade had some strong advice for school administrators. She urges the school to eliminate 'surplus teachers'. She says part of a student's motivation is to be able to connect with the same teacher for all four (4) years. Currently teachers are being transferred after one (1) to two (2) years of employment at a school and the student looses momentum while trying to forge new relationships.
She also urges the administration to talk to the students when making significant decisions. These changes, most often, directly impact the student which also results in failed relationships between student and teachers.
A final message from Jade, "administrators, students should have a voice in not only their academics but also the operation of the school. We are there most of the time, why shouldn't we be involved."
These tips are merely a framework for building relationships between parents, teachers, administrators, the community at large and more importantly with our students. If we don't forge these relationships, it is our children and the community, as Tillman noted, who will suffer the consequences should we fall short. We all know that parenting is a tough, but rewarding job.  But we must recognize that teachers have an even difficult job because as parents we are only nurturing our own children, but  they are taking responsibility for nurturing everyone's child.


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