Awesome…Uplifting…Informative…Amazing…Spectacular…Inspirational…Wonderful…Successful…these are just some of the words parents used to describe the New Jersey Parent Summit.
Upon arrival, attendees received gift bags full of “swag” from major sponsors that included, KIPP NJ, JerseyCAN, Newark Charter School Fund, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Better Education Institute and iLearnSchools, Inc. Summit planners, Shennell McCloud and Gerard Green, said attendance at this year’s summit swelled to 220, compared to the 100 attendees at the inaugural summit in 2016.
Several of New Jersey’s politicians (Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, Assemblyman Troy Singleton and Newark School Board Member Kim Gaddy) were on hand Friday evening to lend support and encourage parents to continue advocating for high-quality education for all children.
In addition to hearing Michael Brown’s mother, Lezely McSpadden deliver an emotionally-charged interview during lunch, Saturday was filled with workshops to help parents, personally and professionally. The variety of session offerings included running for political office; building partnerships between district and charter parents; advocacy (facilitated by Cary Booker); developing your elevator pitch; buying a home; college and career awareness and stress management.
Nicole Williams attended the summit last year and plans to “stop sleeping on [her] talent.” First time summit attendee, Verna Parson agrees and wants to, “really step [her] game up and push for children—not just [her] own child, but all children!” Verna’s colleague Maritza Guridy, longtime parent advocate who attended the summit last year, plans to renew her commitment to engage more parents.
First time attendees, Maureen Woodley and Nicole Lennon, did not consider themselves advocates prior to attending this conference and both were invited by relatives. After attending “bring your personal vision to life” workshop, Maureen realized that she has extensive experience advocating for her special needs son and wants to help others become better advocates. Nicole admitted, “I am a novice. I don’t think I’ve done my part and want to be more on the forefront.”
In comparison, Nicole’s sister, Denisah attended the summit last year, considers herself an advocate and serves as parent partnership chair at her child’s school. Her plan is to initiate a call to action to get additional parents to become more engaged.
Another self-described parent advocate and return summit attendee, Haneef Auguste, sees himself as the “gateway between parents and faculty” because he is an executive board member at National Collegiate Academy. He “brings a male perspective and has experience navigating the system.” His plan is to “create a parent organization independent of his child’s school that is inclusive of [traditional] public school parents.”
Several representatives from local, regional and national parent organizations were in attendance. Tiffany Kerr and Roz Miller-Choice (first time attendees) represented Mocha Moms, a national, parent organization that supports mothers of all colors.
Memphis Lift, a parent-led organization that organizes families with children in low-performing schools, conducted enlightening workshops that spoke about the challenges parents face when striving to get better education for their children. Memphis Lift member and first time summit attendee, Arthur Houston, wants to see more low-income families “at the table when decisions are made about their children’s schools because parents’ voices matter and need to be heard.”
First time summit attendee Sarah Carpenter, executive director of Memphis Lift asked, “Why do we always have to fight to get a high-quality education for our children?” First-time attendee Sylvia P. Simms, president of PARENT POWER in Philadelphia agreed, “No one is going to come into our communities and do for us what we must do for all children.”
Parent advocates, Lunedar Albert and Tafshier Cosby-Thomas, who have children at KIPP NJ and attended last year’s summit said, “We need to create more partnerships. Each person needs to bring another parent next year (not a charter parent). Traditional, public school parents are missing [at this summit] and need to be a part of the discussion.”
Across the nation, there are many low-income children in failing, traditional public schools, why wouldn’t we include their parents and add their voices as we advocate for high quality education? In the voice of John F. Kennedy, “If not us…who? If not now…when?”