Talk to the Hand – When Schools Dismiss Family Partnership
At last Tuesday’s Board of Education Meeting, the district African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC for short) was asked to share an update of our work. I felt lucky to be able to present alongside some of the AMAZING parent leaders in our district! (In case you missed it, I’ll share more about THAT in a future post! In the meantime, you can see it a video of the entire meeting here.)
While I was there, I took the opportunity to speak up during Public Comment about my experiences as a SFUSD parent and parent advocate. While I am humbled by the amazing work I and other parents have achieved this year, and by all the amazing support structures that have recently been put in place to help parents like me, I am also very aware of the work we still need to do in our schools around truly partnering with families.
I am a big believer in Truth Telling. Though it may be difficult at times, it is important to speak up, even when what you have to say causes folks discomfort. Change is uncomfortable. And, if you are about racial and social justice, that necessarily means you are about challenging what’s comfortable, or in other words, the status quo.
With this in mind, I’m sharing my statement with you, dear readers. (With a few additions/revisions). I do this in the hopes that in hearing MY truth, you may connect with some truths of your own. And together we can work together to make all our schools warm, welcoming, inclusive places for all families and children.
Talk to the Hand
When my family first arrived at our new middle school we were excited. We had come from a small elementary with a deeply caring staff and a principal that always welcomed parent partnership. We looked forward to having similar experiences at their middle school.
Talk to the Hand: Unfortunately, our recent experiences have not lived up to our expectations.
Even though my daughters LOVE their teachers and peers, they often say they want to go to another school. This is a heartbreaking statement no parent wants to hear.
Since the beginning of school my girls have witnessed fights, been called derogatory names, been hit on the back of the head with a flying milk carton, and had their wallet stolen along with their peers.
Talk to the Hand: Whether we like it or not, these formative experiences will be forged into my daughters memories of their 6th grade year.
As a former middle and high school educator, I know no school is perfect and have looked for ways to support my school. Nonetheless, my efforts have been met with great resistance.
This is the sign that greets families when they enter our school. It is emblematic of my family’s experience there.
It shows the picture of a White policeman holding his hand up to bar entry. It reads: “STOP! Security Alert!” And then goes on to explain rules and protocols for entering the site. I understand the EXTREME importance of ensuring the safety of staff and students. Nonetheless in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, I was shocked to see such a sign at the entrance of our school.
Talk to the Hand: Nowhere could I find a sign saying “Welcome families!”
When I showed the sign to my husband, he said it should read: “Talk to the hand.”
When I began hearing about fights on campus, I asked about supervision. I was told, “We’re good.”
When I learned about a parent engagement committee at the school and asked to join, I was told “We’re full.”
When I asked about starting a Black parent group last May, I was told “Let’s start one”. Despite my continued requests, I haven’t heard back since.
Talk to the Hand: This experience has felt like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Despite these negative experiences, I don’t want to go to another school. My daughters have incredible teachers, caring after school staff, and amazing friends.
I want to be a part of a school community that welcomes me and my children. I want to be a part of a school community that seeks out diverse perspectives. I want to be a part of a school that appreciates the time and expertise I and other parents are willing to donate for the betterment of all our students.
Shawn Ginwright, author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education — How Urban Activists and Teachers are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart, says: “Research suggests that hopefulness is the function of agency, the belief that one can change things, and pathways, opportunities to act to achieve a desired goal.”
Despite these negative experiences, I choose to believe I can change things. (That’s agency.)
Now, Board of Education Commissioners, district and site administrators… it’s your turn. As stewards, architects and engineers of our education system—I am asking YOU to take action. Build pathways to allow me, and other parents, students and staff to actively partner with our school.