The first Road Map Region Parent Forum was held on April 20 at Foster High School in Tukwila. The inaugural theme was “Strengthening Family and School Connections for Student Success.” Personally, I could not be more pleased with its results and feel it represented a small step toward the 2020 goal and one giant, collective leap for the region.
Before delving any further, perhaps it is necessary to share a bit more of the “deets” on how this event came about in the first place.
The idea for the Parent Forum was born out of a series of community listening sessions held back when dinosaurs playfully sauntered about the Road Map Project region, or summer 2012, as my 2 year old, Zion, would say. From contemplation to commitment, the word “different” always persisted in my mind as the only sensible criterion by which to take on this “cray” idea (in my best Kanye West voice). In other words, the planning and implementation processes needed to flip the proverbial script by assuming an “anti-business as usual” approach and adhere to the standards of authentic community engagement. (Or make one helluva effort). Finally, after reflecting on previous experiences at similar events, the following principles emerged for taking this idea to an innovative reality:
1) Co-design it with others, especially parents (build ownership, not “buy-in”);
2) Break away from the pervasive, one-way, “experts preaching at parents” model (incorporate dialogue-based and participatory learning);
3) Infuse and lift up parent voice, perspective and leadership throughout the event (respect parents as equal partners); and
4) Provide meaningful information in engaging ways (meet parents and families where they are; offer them tangible ways to take concrete action).
We also needed to construct a facility that could accommodate all of the necessary, juicy and culturally responsive elements—all in five months. Syke. But it was, however, a priority to locate a venue centrally located in the Road Map Project region that could accommodate the anticipated turnout (500) plus enable us to provide the non-content stuff parents said they wanted:
- An engaging atmosphere;
- To hear from people that looked like them, including seeing other parents featured throughout the event;
- A religious, dietary and culturally appropriate food menu (e.g., halal);
- A comfortable setting for child care and children’s activities; and
- Space for religious practices (e.g., prayer rooms).
The Road Map Project has built a reputation for bringing together cross-sector partnerships to work collaboratively on a common goal, and I am glad the Parent Forum neither strayed nor disappointed. In meetings, phone conversations and email exchanges over the last few weeks, I have been incredibly humbled by people using words like “authentic,” “meaningful,” “inspirational” and “powerful” to describe their experiences at the Parent Forum.
Hearing this is humbling to me for many reasons. First, despite the commonsensical nature of being collaborative, working together, blah-blah-blah – in reality, bringing folks together is mostly messy, frequently complicated, tough work. Second, it is inspiring to witness a spectrum of folks – all with varying missions, roles, geography – humble themselves by acknowledging that it’s not about them (individually or organizationally) and committing to the bigger picture. Lastly, quite frankly, at the end of the day, folks have enough on their plates! People didn’t have to help us make this happen, but they did. And, as a result, something very special was born for the region.
James Cash Penney once said, “The five separate fingers are five independent units. Close them and the fist multiplies strength. This is organization.” (Yes, I just quoted the founder of your favorite department store, J.C. Penny). But I think this fittingly captures the spirit of the Parent Forum. Our region delivered another powerful demonstration of what it can do when it works together.
Throughout the day, I was frequently asked how I felt the event was going. The day-long scramble, management and running around made it difficult to gain a real pulse on the day.
I was blessed to witness the rich mosaic of families and communities in attendance and enthusiastic about building a brighter future for children… on a less-than-sunshiny Saturday, even! I was also very pleased to hear that by the time the event wrapped up around 4 p.m., well over 1,000 people – nearly 800 parents and nearly 300 children – took advantage of the “cradle to college” workshops and resource fair.
Attendees came from across the Road Map Project region, making it a truly regional event. And it kicked off with a bang (literally) with a captivating and energizing performance by Mshenga African Drum (featuring local author, artist and community leader, Marcia Tate-Arunga). Attendees were then officially welcomed to the Tukwila community by Mayor Jim Haggerton and School Board President Mark Wahlstrom before hearing inspirational messages from Patricia Gonzalez (local parent leader and Highline Public Schools parent) and Norman B. Rice (President and CEO of The Seattle Foundation). I should mention that the community buzz from Norman’s and Patricia’s keynotes continues to pour in!
Albeit cliché, Nov. 19, 2012, really does seem like the proverbial yesterday and we were bantering about the aggressive timeline, which at the time was March 30, 2013 (wowzers!) – and mulling over capacity, feasibility and all of the related words boasted by the nonprofit strategic planning lexicon.
Major kudos to Team We. More than 200 people helped us build the Parent Forum and condense a year’s worth of planning into five months of bi-weekly meetings! More than 180 parents shared their experiences, aspirations and ideas with us to shape the content, structure and format. The planning team – which also included parents plus a range of school and community partners – ensured that planning and implementation remained responsive to parents’ needs and true to the nontraditional vision for the event. Again, major kudos to Team We.
If you are one with a slightest fondness for action, then you should be asking, “OK, now what?”
Thought you’d never ask.
The Parent Forum was always envisioned by the Road Map Project as part of a continuum of strategic actions aimed to do one or a combination of the following: 1) add to existing momentum around parent and family engagement; 2) catalyze new momentum; and 3) inform our parent engagement action plan. It was never intended to be a one-day-celebratory-pat-ourselves-on-the-back-then-go-home-until-the-Sonics-return-to-Seattle kind of event.
Next steps are already in motion. On the district side of things, we are currently preparing to share feedback from the afternoon “Building Bridges” sessions (school district-specific conversations between parents, school leadership and the community) with each Road Map Project district to inform how they can partner better with their families. I am pleased that some are already off to the races: Federal Way is moving forward with plans to hold a “mini-Parent Forum” and Auburn wants to replicate it, as well. On the community side, discussions are active with community partners on leveraging momentum created from the Parent Forum into meaningful next steps in respective Road Map Project communities. Groups in Tukwila and Renton are exploring potential actions in their communities. Regarding the Road Map Project, once all feedback is gathered, my goal is to use it to inform concrete actions the project can take. I learned a while back that listening was the best precursor to action, so I anticipate the feedback will help us identify some new actions as well as strengthen some of the existing strategies around parent and family engagement. Very exciting and hopeful stuff.
In reflecting on the Parent Forum, West African wisdom seems instructive. “Sankofa,” often characterized in Adinkra symbolism by the Sankofa bird flying while looking backward with an egg in her beak, is a great symbol of the importance of learning from the past or past actions. Very characteristic of the process of the Parent Forum, it roughly translates into “learn from the past to inform your future.”
In order to stave off doubts, fears… heck, even the “haters,” it was imperative to embrace a mindset of “we learn by doing” – irrespective of the turnout. Anticipating less than perfection in the planning and implementation proved invaluable and also enabled the process to be organic, authentic and allowed openness to the unknown from the socially experimental nature of the Parent Forum.
We can do a lot of things. Most important of all, I believe, is our ability to act. The Road Map Project represents a region-wide call to action and the Parent Forum served as a great example of collective action and impact. We acted. We learned – and will continue to – a great deal. The Parent Forum was a great success for the region but we have so much more work to do. Onward we go.
Anthony Shoecraft is the Community Engagement Manager at the Community Center for Education Results.
Posted in: Family Engagement