“Identity, language and culture are big issues. We’re not part of this country because we’re not Anglo, but we’re not part of our former country either.” This sentiment encapsulates the experience of many parents who attended the March 20 Generation Next family engagement session with Saint Paul Public Schools’ District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC). A richly diverse group of parents, DPAC has a unique structure in that representatives are proportionate to the district demographics.
The lively session had parents from the African American, American Indian, Hispanic, Hmong, Karen, Somali and White communities, along with special education. More than 36 parents took part in small group discussions on a range of educational topics: achievement gap, early literacy, student progress, in-school supports, out-of-school supports, and college and career readiness.
While many parents or their families were new immigrants, time and again they expressed that education held the key to success for their children. Yet many experienced barriers in their children’s education. But as parents shared their insights, themes emerged on how services to support their children could be developed or scaled.
Navigating both the complexities of the K-12 education system and college was a prominent issue for parents. Many felt they could not afford college and did not know how to apply for financial aid. Others shared that some parents in their community were uncertain if their undocumented children could apply for college. One parent said that high school graduates in the community were not always aware of the pathway to college and often ended up working in physically demanding jobs rather than pursuing a post-secondary degree.
The need for school staff to reflect student demographics was also a recurring theme. Parents felt they would be more comfortable approaching teachers and staff with questions and concerns about their child’s learning if they were from their own culture. Parents also felt that teachers and staff could be role models and inspire their children to pursue college and a career if they looked more like them.
Clearly these experiences highlight gaps in communication and services that both schools and the wider community can address, but several parents praised Saint Paul Public Schools’ Parent Academy and the desire to expand this program across the district. A free, seven-week program designed for parents and teachers to work together, Parent Academy helps families prepare children for success in school and college with topics covering curriculum, testing, high school and college graduation requirements, among other issues.
This wealth of information will inform Generation Next’s strategic planning in the coming months.
Listening sessions will continue throughout the summer with specific communities including homeless/highly mobile families and students; families with children with special needs; along with sessions with the African American, American Indian, Hmong, Karen, Oromo, Somali communities; the broader community; along with several youth groups.