Staying Involved During the High School Years
An Interview with Derrick Smith, a Parent at James Madison Memorial High School, Madison, Wis.
Derrick Smith is one of the founders of "AHANA" (Asian, Hispanic, African American, and Native American), a parent group at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wis. The group promotes family involvement as well as smaller learning environments in school, which have been shown to be effective in closing the achievement gap between ethnic minority students and their peers.
What led to the start of AHANA?
We felt that it was important that all parents get involved with their children in the high school. When kids get to that age, they tend to feel isolated. Because there are two wage earners for some families and a single parent in others, there's not a lot of time for parents to really sit down and talk with their kids about high school and the problems and pressures they encounter-especially for kids of color. Here in Madison, where there's a 4-percent black population in some high schools, there is a problem with kids of color getting acclimated. I think sometimes when school administrators and teachers see parents of color they think their ideas-and ideals-are different from those who are not of color. But most people want their kids to have the best education, and parents have to be at the forefront of that.
How can high school parents become more active?
One thing is to visit the campus, because then you really see what your child is going through. Also, by stepping onto the campus you make teachers and administrators aware that you are holding them accountable for the things that you feel are important.
How do your sons deal with having their father on campus?
Some parents want their kids to feel independent and they want to be a "friend" to their kids-and I don't think there's anything wrong with that-but teenagers need to have their parents involved in their day-to-day lives. We can't just send them off to school and expect four years later that they're going to be these great young adults?.
I don't worry about being "uncool," because there are too many kids falling through the cracks. I don't want to embarrass my sons; I understand peer pressure. But if I don't take the time to go to the school and find out what's going on, I can't expect somebody else to do that. So I get them involved and say, "I'm going to call your counselor next week to sit down with her for a few minutes to see how you're doing and look at some of the college issues that you have and I'd like you to be there with me. What's your schedule?"
How can the school involve more parents?
Sometimes you have to put the onus on the teachers and the administrators to meet you when you can: after hours, early in the morning or at your home. I think that's where some of the issues in education have changed from when I was a child. Before, if you had an issue, your teacher could come to your house or meet you somewhere convenient. Nowadays, we don't see a lot of that.
We now are talking with the administrators at Memorial to see if we can make it more convenient for parents who can't get there easily. We need to send buses to their community centers, or give them a taxi voucher, or get them to school some other way. Another way we try to welcome parents to our meetings is to have interpreters-both Spanish and Hmong.
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Last updatedNovember 26, 2001 (eal)