The 2010 Annual Report for the city's Families and Education Levy noted deep disparities in academic achievement between children of color and white children. The city of Seattle report suggests that one of the best ways to address this disparity is with programs outside the typical school day — with what the report calls “family support services” and “community learning centers.”
With shrinking school budgets threatening even basic school programs, one community group is stepping up to fill the role of out-of-school programs for students and engage parents to navigate the Seattle school system.
On Saturday (Aug. 20), the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators (SABSE) will host a Parent Summit to address the question of how parents can partner with school districts to help ensure student success. The goal of the summit is to empower parents with information about voting and legislation that affect Seattle schools. The event, which is free and open to all, will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Cleveland High School, 5511 15th Ave.
Speakers will include interim School Superintendant Susan Enfield and Bernardo Ruiz, the Family Engagement Manager at Seattle Public Schools. A “pastors roundtable” will include members of local churches where SABSE regularly provides after-school tutoring.
“We're having a paradigm shift that involves looking at families as partners,” said Bernardo Ruiz, the Family Engagement Manager at Seattle Public Schools, “We're seeing families and schools as being in a collaborative, team effort.”
The SABSE, which has been in operation for 16 years, draws together educators from a variety of fields and works with community partners, retired educators, and parents to improve academic achievement. The group has been holding summits annually for more than a decade. This year, there is a focus on laws affecting education.
Ina Howell, commission chairperson for SABSE, said the group tries to "work in a united way to promote the education of all students, to work together for all children, and to create a forum to improve ideas to educate children.” According to Howell, public schools often appear unwelcoming to parents and opportunities to get involved are hard to find.
“Sometimes districts are so large that just disseminating information is difficult. We hope to provide that information to students and their families,” said Joanne Hill, director of SABSE. “A school district can't be an entity unto itself. Parents and students have to learn how to access those means of communication in getting their voices heard.”
According to Ruiz, this partnership is good for Seattle Public Schools, too. Families that put a lot of emphasis on religion put a lot of trust in their pastors. These partnerships create new avenues to access the lives of minority students who might be at risk academically and send a unified message that education is important.
“Families are their kids' first teachers, they know their kids better than anyone else,” said Ruiz, “They need to know how to advocate effectively for their kids.” Ruiz hopes that events like the upcoming summit will help parents ask questions like, is my child at grade level? what areas is my child not understanding? and what can I do to make sure my child is excelling?
“These questions might seem common sense, but some families might not ask because they don't know they can ask them,” he said.
At the summit, interpreters will be available in Spanish, Somali, Chinese, Tagalog, Amharic, and Vietnamese.