Parents across the country, with different lived experiences, are united by our belief that we can be the catalysts to create transformative change that benefits all children in our public education system. This change can only happen when we commit to truly embracing the power of parental involvement, collaboration, and shared responsibility in creating a more equitable and inclusive education system. We are more than just attendees at parent-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. We are on the front line, actively fighting and changing policies that will have a positive impact not only on our children today, but also on future generations of students.
Being on the front lines means refusing to accept the status quo, choosing instead to harness our frustration in a drive for change, and standing side by side with schools and teachers to face the challenges ahead and ensure children have what they need to succeed. For example, as schools began to reopen after the pandemic, a shortage of bus drivers in Buffalo, New York threatened to cut off access to after-school programs. The children who depend on buses to get to and from school are our low-income children of color – the same children who have been most affected by the learning loss and mental health toll caused by the pandemic. School closures during the pandemic and the resulting lack of transportation have left our children feeling even more disconnected and facing more instability. This, in turn, led to more frustration, more school fights, and higher school suspension rates at a time when they were already higher than ever.
In response, parents mobilized other parents, partnering with the University at Buffalo, as well as local stakeholders and organizations, to form the Buffalo Education Equity Task Force. The task force met weekly with educators and leaders at all levels of government to address the transportation crisis and lack of equitable access to after-school programs. Working together, we arrived at a resolution that guaranteed equal access and reliable transportation to programs for all of our children.
It is a transformation with tangible results.
Of course, transformation is an ongoing process and relies on trust as the cornerstone of successful partnerships. By fostering trusting relationships between parents and school leaders, we lay the foundation for collaboration and positive change. For teachers, it might look like reaching out not only to address challenging behaviors in the classroom, but also to tell us when our children are succeeding and thriving. This seemingly small action can be transformational, bringing perspective and building the confidence needed to move mountains. It shows parents that educators see our children as precious, complicated and growing human beings, while allowing them to understand the depth of our commitment and investment.
Parents and families must also do their part. By actively embracing our crucial role in the education of our children, we unlock the key to their academic and personal growth. We must continue to work in partnership with educators to develop strategies that meet the needs of our children, ensuring they receive the support and resources necessary to succeed and thrive in life, not just go through K-12 education. Only by working together can we create an environment that fosters a love of learning, embraces diversity and promotes equity.
Our commitment to transforming the education system goes beyond our individual experiences. We advocate for systemic changes that benefit all underserved communities. Among other issues, we lobbied for legislation to minimize suspensions by addressing the mental health needs of our students in a restorative rather than punitive way. By joining forces with other parents, community leaders and policy makers, we amplify our collective voice and advocate for policies that promote equity and dismantle systemic barriers.
We strive to create a more inclusive and fair education system for all children. Children should be free to learn, express and celebrate their identity while demanding the right to read well and have a path to success and opportunity in the future. By working together, we can overcome historical barriers and biases that have hindered our children’s educational journey. Through open dialogue, mutual respect and shared goals, we pave the way towards an inclusive and supportive education system. Our children’s generation and future generations are counting on us.
Samuel, Pascale and Tonya are parent leaders with National Union of Parents (NPU). With more than 1,000 affiliated parent organizations in all 50 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, NPU is a genuinely parent-led organization that seeks to harness the power of parents to improve the lives of children, families, and community across the United States.