The general consensus seems to be that low-income African American and Latino parents are not involved in their children’s education. From our experience in working with families of this demographic, nothing could be further from the truth. At Village Leadership Academy, a school of where 92% of the children we educate are considered to be low income, we have outstanding parental involvement. In fact, our student’s parents demand a quality education for their children; they had a major impact in creating our school: Village Leadership Academy
Most of our parents joined the Village family when their children were infants or toddlers. I would argue that this is where the seed to parental education advocacy is born. With the over 1,000 children that have come through our early learning centers, It Takes A Village, we know undeniably that everyone loves their babies. Teachers capitalize on this knowledge by engaging parents in conversations about each child’s individual development. They point out things like their infant’s ability to hold books properly with understanding the direction of text; their toddler’s ability to identify matching items; their two year olds’ understanding of more and less; and most importantly, that all of these things are indications that their children are on a path to academic success. By the time It Takes A Village students are three years old, they can identify the letters of the alphabet and many children are already beginning to read. Parents hold on to their initial belief that their child is different, that they have a little genius. They become dedicated to supporting the genius within them.
Our parent’s primal love for their baby coupled with insightful conversations with teachers about their individual child’s development inspires them to attend monthly parent meetings, family literacy nights, parent-teacher conferences, and yes, become educational advocates for their child. At monthly meetings individual parents stand up to share stories about their child’s success. They publicly reflect on the contrast of their own education with that of their child and they thank teachers for giving their children more. I have been at parent meetings where parents are moved to tears when they think about the possibilities for their children. It was out of these collective experiences that Village Leadership Academy was born.
Initially, our goal as educators was to provide a superior preschool education for children that would serve as the foundation for their future success. Everything that we wanted for our personal children we infused into the center for every child to experience and benefit from. When we graduated our first class from preschool, they were reading and had a command of basic mathematic concepts. We thought, “Success! We are addressing the achievement gap at the core.” We assembled a couple hundred extended family members, put on a grand graduation ceremony, and in that fall, we sent our babies off to the local public schools.
Reports quickly came back from our parents that their children were not being challenged at the neighborhood schools. Parents complained about the overcrowded classrooms, low academic expectations, and teacher’s inability to plan for individual students. They feared that their children would begin to regress, or act out as a result of their boredom. Worst of all, parents reported that their children were not happy going to school – they were starting to disengage in learning. This was unacceptable.
After numerous conversations with teachers and administrative staff about their concerns at the neighborhood school, parents began to seek an alternative education for their children. They explored the possibility of private school, but the tuition was beyond their reach.
Finally, they began to insist that we establish a kindergarten program and keep them one more year with hopes of trying the school system again next year in the 1st grade. We gladly obliged and created a kindergarten room at one of the preschool locations. “What was another year?” we thought. Next year they will be in 1st grade and the school system will be ready for them. However, by the end of our first kindergarten year, most of the students were performing at a 2nd grade level. So our very empowered parents asked, “Where will the 1st grade classroom be?”
So here we ALL are three years later, Village Leadership Academy, a private school of mostly low income students born out of the demand by parents who usually are said to not be involved. They demanded something better for their children. Our parents’ love for their children and their belief in their genius gave birth to our school.
For more information in supporting our parents grassroots education transformation campaign please contact us at (312) 675-0056.