It’s indisputable that most students perform better academically when they have parents or adults to help with homework and to be advocates with teachers and principals.
But in many communities, parents who juggle multiple jobs, don’t speak much English, or have low levels of education often don’t have the time or resources to make meaningful connections to their child’s schooling experience.
That’s why some leading-edge districts have made it their job to reach out to families and create more welcoming and accessible ways for parents to be part of their children’s schooling.
In Washoe County, Nev., for example, the school district’s family-engagement work includes organizing home visits by teachers—and training those teachers to make the most of those face-to-face encounters in students’ homes.
In Federal Way, Wash., the leader of family-engagement efforts taps a diverse array of parents to serve on committees or task forces that inform major decision making in the district, including high-level hires.
Still, the specialized field of parent and family engagement has mostly been driven by ambitious leaders at the district level. And even in districts with robust programming, resources to support the work are often tight.
But new and potentially bigger forces are building around the need for schools and educators to forge deeper connections with parents and community members.
Philanthropists—in particular the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York—are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.
And the federal budget has set aside $10 million to help fund efforts by several state education agencies and outside partners to develop strong parent and community programming.
The Every Student Succeeds Act also directs states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities—a requirement that has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.
Advocates for building strong ties between schools and families say it’s a major opportunity for a proven, yet underutilized strategy to make schools better.
“There is a lot of excitement, and more of an evolution in where both policymakers and funders feel like they want to increasingly put their money,” said Vito Borrello, the executive director for the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement…
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BRYN MAWR, Pennsylvania — The Horror Writers Association (HWA) is developing a “Summer Scares” reading program that will provide libraries and schools with an annual list of recommended horror titles for adult, young adult (teen), and middle grade readers. The goal is to introduce new authors and help librarians start conversations with readers that will extend beyond the books from each list and promote reading for years to come.
HWA is partnering with United for Libraries, Book Riot, and Library Journal/School Library Journal on “Summer Scares.”
Award-winning author Grady Hendrix and a committee of four librarians will be selecting three recommended fiction titles in each of three reading levels— Middle Grade, Teen, and Adult— for a total of nine “Summer Scares” selections. The goal of the program is to encourage a national conversation about the entire horror genre, across all age levels, at libraries all over the country and ultimately get more adults, teens, and children interested in reading. Official “Summer Scares” designated authors will also be making themselves available to appear, either virtually or in person, at public and school libraries all over the country, for free.
“Horror is one of those genres that is incredibly popular,” Grady Hendrix says. “But people look at you funny when you say you like reading horror. We want to use this opportunity to showcase the best of what’s out there today. These stories won’t just scare readers, but they’ll make them laugh, make them cry, and make them cringe. There’s more to horror than just saying ‘boo’.”
The committee’s final selections will be announced on February 14, 2019— National Library Lover’s Day. Some or all of the authors of those titles will appear on a panel to kick off “Summer Scares” at Librarian’s Day during StokerCon 2019 on May 10, 2019, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Brandon Gipson and Nigerian-born Oladipupo (Ola) Johnson both graduated from Georgia Tech in Spring 2018, with degrees in computer science and mechanical engineering, respectively. For both, it was community connections that helped lead them to Tech; the community they found here sustained them and was central to their college experience. But for Gipson, who came from a majority minority high school in Virginia, at times it was alienating.
Gipson was feeling what numbers show: Though Georgia Tech awards more engineering degrees to women and underrepresented minorities than any other university in the United States, black men comprise less than 5 percent of the resident student population.
To support black men at Tech, the school offers the African American Male Initiative, a University System of Georgia-funded initiative that provides academic resources, mentoring, and leadership training to enhance enrollment, retention, graduation and career placement.
The program began in 2011 with approximately 30 participants. Today, it counts 150 and has served more than 680 students since its inception. AAMI is based out of Tech’s OMED Educational Services, which is part of Institute Diversity…
When I was a little girl I wanted two things: a pair of magic earrings, identical to the ones in my favorite cartoon, and to be a Fairy Princess Ballerina Astronaut. Both seemed like realistic options in my little world, which I created from my bedroom in Alexandria, Louisiana. I was not aware that hologram, time-traveling earrings did not exist…and probably never would in my lifetime. Nor was I told that balancing a theatrical career and space travel might prove to be difficult and test my time management skills.
I was young, full of hope and daring to dream.
As an adolescent, I aspired to be a ballet dancer. It seemed like a more far-fetched dream than the magic earrings, because I did not know any African American professional dancers. I could see my cartoon every week on TV in the living room (yes, cartoons felt like real life), but a real-life, professional dancer of color in front of my very eyes…not likely. I was often the only dancer of color in my ballet classes, and when you live in “Small Town, USA,” being a dancer, or any creative occupation for that matter, is not exactly encouraged.
My mother, my first mentor, recognized my passion and love for the performing arts and was determined to not only encourage me to pursue my dreams, but also to show me that those dreams could in fact become a reality.
My mother heard about a Principal Ballerina in her hometown of Houston, Texas by the name of Lauren Anderson. Ms. Anderson was a performance powerhouse with the Houston Ballet. She was also one of the first African American ballerinas to become a principal for a major dance company, an important milestone in American ballet. My mother had two tickets to see Ms. Anderson perform the Pas de Deux in “The Nutcracker” ballet, and she was taking her baby girl.
When Ms. Anderson stepped on stage, I felt as though I leaped onto that stage with her. Every step, turn, and gesture had a young Dana Blair mesmerized. The possibility of seeing someone like me, in front of my very eyes, accomplish their dreams was all of the motivation and inspiration I needed. I then knew that my dreams could also come true.
Fast forward several years to when I would move to New York City and, quite literally, live out multiple careers, first as a dancer and marketing executive and now an on-air correspondent and producer. While the journey seemingly had no clear path, it did have men and women along the way that took interest in my potential, supported my goals and nurtured my dreams. Thus, like my mother, these mentors went above and beyond the call of duty to guide, challenge and direct my energy and talents. They too showed me that my dreams could become my reality. Without them, I know I would not have achieved many of my milestones, big and small, along the way. Their mentorship guided me through difficult career decisions and taught me invaluable life lessons.
Each of my mentors over the years have come from different economic backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, and industries. However, they have all given me the same advice over the years: “Don’t thank me. Just pay it forward. One day it will be your turn.”
Now it is my turn to step up to the plate and pay it forward. This is why I joined NNPA’s 2018 Discover the Unexpected (DTU) Journalism Fellowship program as a Road Trip Navigator (mentor). I was honored to be considered for the role and leaped for joy once I found out that I was on the team. I now have the opportunity to align with General Motors and the Chevrolet Equinox, a brand as passionate about mentorship and empowerment as I am, plus get to know six really cool, motivated young men and women representing six HBCUs throughout the country.
I had the pleasure of meeting the DTU Fellows in Detroit for an intense two-day boot camp to get them road trip ready. I must say I felt like the overzealous, nosey auntie at the family BBQ. Their eyes were bright. The energy was high. I wanted to be all in the mix. I wanted to know everything about them from birth all the way up to what they had for breakfast that morning.
As six sets of eyes looked at me from around the table, I struggled to find the right words to empower and inspire, yet not overwhelm them (I tend to talk a lot!). These young, bright minds are future Black journalists that will shape dialogue in our country and increase representation for their generation.
What words of wisdom did I want to impart?
I came up with these three tips to help them prepare for their summer-long internship of road tripping in the new Chevy Equinox:
Be Prepared. You are journalists now. It is your duty to know all of the angles, research and possible plot twists on the subject. What do you want to discover, explore and share with your readers? Furthermore, how do you want to deliver this to your audience?
Be Polished. Ms. Anderson provided important representation in the dance world and created a ripple effect in my life, and I am sure in many others. It is important that the Fellows are on point. As young men and women being granted access to some really cool stories, rooms, and executives, conduct yourselves in a polished manner. You never know who is watching and what your presence may communicate.
Pay Attention. In media, it is your job to see the details. It is often those details or tidbits of information that pop up in an interview that can make or break a story- carrying you down a new road to find something truly powerful and interesting.
I am humbled and honored to be a part of the NNPA’s 2018 DTU Journalism Fellowship and the fellows’ journey. I hope that my stories, lessons learned, tips and, of course, the occasional corny joke show them that their dreams can become a reality, just like mine. This is their time to thrive and shine, and I am beyond thrilled to sit next to them in the driver’s seat. Let’s go DTU 2018 Fellows! We have some new roads to discover!
Dana Blair is the Road Trip Navigator for the NNPA’s 2018 Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellowship program. Dana is also a producer and on-air personality. Follow Dana on Instagram @justdanablair.
Learn more about the NNPA’s Discover The Unexpected Journalism Fellowship at nnpa.org/dtu.
Several years ago, Dr. Renaldo Blocker was reflecting on the importance of mentors in his life. “We realized that we were fortunate to have a support system throughout our academic and professional career.” Blocker is a Mayo Clinic healthcare systems engineering assistant professor.
“We were fortunate to have these people in our lives… Many of our peers did not.” Blocker wanted to help other students benefit from such support – and more. From this emerged “Why You?”
The support system Blocker envisioned back in 2003 included mentoring, but, he explained, it was “way more than that.” In 2011, he and Dr. Antonio Daniels co-founded the “Why You?” Initiative, Inc. (YU?), a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization.
The program was about more than providing resources: It’s about “connecting with other people who can help me move forward in my life.” Blocker added, “We still have those same mentors [and the] same support system today that continually challenges us to move forward and become even better and brighter.”
Asked about the group’s title, Blocker recalled, “We were trying to come up with a good name. We said we should be asking a rhetorical question and we came up with ‘Why You?’ We are questioning the students on why me [to] help them understand that they are needed, [they] are unique, they are valued, and they have a sense of purpose for the greater community. They don’t realize that.”
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Blocker is a first-generation college graduate with degrees in computer science and industrial and systems engineering. “We provide a support system for students either younger than us [or] older than us,” he said. “As we become more educated, we provide a theoretical and conceptual framework in how we approach it.”
He said that of the estimated 180 students participating in the program, nearly half are males. All are from low-income backgrounds. “We have students in 17 states. We don’t have branches. Ages range from 15-year-olds to the oldest person in the organization, who is 47 years old.
“Eighty percent of our budget comes from me and the co-founder; the other  percent comes from our friends,” Blocker said of the group’s funding. Last year, his organization received several grants, including one from the St. Paul Foundation “that helped with our programming,” he reported.
Blocker said there are monthly webinars, which usually begin in May and run through September. He added there is also an on-line ConFab being planned for this September.
“We have students across the board,” he continued. “A lot of our students are STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] majors — about 40 percent. We have students who are in the arts and humanities, pre-law [and] medical school.
“We are more of a long-term engagement that includes not just high school and undergraduate students – we do the gamut. We try to tackle high school students and post-high school students, the ones that maybe graduate from high school but need someone in their life to show them and support them through a higher pace.
“Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative does fall in line in what we do,” he said.
Why You? held its first in-person ConFab last month in Minneapolis expecting about 180 people, but nearly 200 persons showed up, said Blocker. “I thought the numbers would be real low because it was our first time. We were surprisingly pleased with the turnout.
“They [the conference participants] thought it was an excellent event and said they would like to come again. People came away feeling empowered. The purpose was for all those students that we serve [to have] an opportunity to come to Minnesota and actually meet some of their mentors face-to-face for the first time.”
There is no formal requirement to participate in Why You? “We have an on-line application process that we open up in June and November,” Blocker concluded. “The only requirement is that we want students to want to be helped. If those students don’t want to be helped, we can’t reach out to help them.”
On February 11, 2018, the members of the Hampton Roads community gathered in Suffolk to celebrate Nansemond-Suffolk Branch’s Freedom Fund Banquet. This year’s theme was: Maximizing the Moment, Laying Hold of the Future: Honoring Our Exceptional Youth.
Before a standing room only crowd, the keynote speaker was the impressive young leader, Ms. Gerica Goodman, policy director with Virginia21. She reminded the guests and audience how important it is to be engaged, to get involved in your community, and let your voices be heard.
The Suffolk NAACP hosted 20 well-deserving youth, their parents, family, and the community at-large. Each youth honoree received a medallion of excellence, a certificate of accomplishment and a stipend. Several members of the Hampton Roads legislative delegation were in attendance, including the Honorable Congressmen Donald McEachin and Bobby Scott. Many city officials attended as well.
Two of Hampton Roads’ outstanding business people. Rillco, Inc., and TimeAway, Inc. received he President’s Award for Small Minority-Owned Business Excellence.
NAACP President Seneca Bock said, “As we endeavor to increase economic and social justice, we always encourage small minority-owned business development, entrepreneurship and innovation. These two companies continue to lead the way for many to come behind them.”
Keith Willis, incoming 100 BMIE president, said that he and the other volunteer mentors were taking late night calls from their boys, talking up and tweaking speeches until the last minute.
“They are very involved, very excited about the showcase. I’ve been on the phone, and they’ve been practicing,” he said.
The program, in partnership with the Pomona chapter Jack and Jill of America and the 100 BMIE Education Committee, helped the youth develop their presentations around some of the most significant civil rights heroes throughout Black history.
He said that “the 100” has been focused on outreach and broadening their students’ exposure to get out of the area to social events. They have been especially excited to collaborate with the Boy Scouts of America and in December, they took the boys to a leadership camp where they participated in a team-building exercise.
It was important to give students an opportunity that they wouldn’t ordinarily get in in the Inland Empire, he said.
The boys and youth also attended a young men’s conference sponsored by Jewett Walker, Div. President and Chairman of the Board of the 100 Black Men of Los Angeles.
“There were over 500 students there. It was an opportunity for our students to meet up with Los Angeles students and discuss issues that relate to growing up in America, in the climate that we have today. It was a very good exercise,” he said.
Wherever the 100 Black Men charters exist, part of the big picture is keeping students tight with local college campuses and formal higher education environments.
The organization provides strong academic support, but they especially want the boys grounded in a sense of self, with the cultural and social support they need for college success.
“It’s very important that students not feel like college is a foreign concept,” Willis said. “We want them to feel comfortable on campus, with various campus cultures so they can examine what is a good fit for them academically.”
Prior to coming on as president, Willis chaired the education committee, where his pet project was jump-starting the pilot program for the Saturday Academy at Cal Baptist University.
Their mentoring program at Chemawa Middle School, part of the Riverside Unified School District, is now in its second successful year. This week, in partnership with CBU, they are taking the middle school students out to the ball game for another fun day with higher education strategies hidden in the mix.
“It’s for a slice of college life,” he said. “We are also looking forward to building up a collaboration with University of California, Riverside, and the Black Student Union there to work on programs together.”
Willis said that he joined “the 100” because he was seeking a way to academically impact youth, which is part of the mission of the organization. Initially, he served on the mentoring committee with Chemawa Middle School, eventually transitioning into the Saturday Academy.
“I came, and I was immediately enamored because it was exactly what I wanted to do,” said Willis, formerly a social studies teacher, and now an attorney. “We’re able to provide support, and a consistent presence of mentoring there.”
As students aged out of the middle school, the organization piloted a program with CBU, which encompasses some students from area high schools. All those attending wear their signature 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire shirt and khaki pants for their regular bi-monthly meetings. Currently, they have about 30 regular students aged 12 to 18.
In the coming weeks, the organization is also pushing community support for its April 20 Annual Gulf Tournament fundraiser to help keep the local programming strong for the kids.
Much of the energy in recent years has been in getting their bearings as a new organization, and developing programs that are a good fit for the local boys. But the students who tend to be more involved also have strong parental support, he said. They make sure the boys come out to the meetings at the CBU campus.
As they’ve grown in the program, their boys and youth have developed persistence and staying power. One student recently missed a class, and he was clearly upset about it.
“Once they go consistently, they want to keep going. It’s really been a positive experience,” he said.
For more information on the golf tournament or to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org