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Parent mentoring program highlighted... Antidote to Cynicism: Parent Mentoring Program Graduates 603 Parent Mentors for in-Classroom Student/Teacher Support

Covering education-related activities in Chicago with clowns like Mayor 1%, the Chicago School Board or its Chief Executive Officers can make one extremely cynical. Extremely fast. The corruption, the phoniness, the hypocrisy is sickening and corrosive to anything good.

Yet this reporter found one antidote to the cynicism: the Parent Engagement Institute. This is a project of LSNA (Logan Square Neighborhood Association) and SWOP (Southwest Organizing Project), and is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. They have been joined over the years by a number of organizations across the City and the State: Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Casa Guanajuato (Quad Cities), Enlace Chicago, Family Forum (Aurora), Hispanic American Community and Education Services, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Mujeres Latinas en Accin, Niles Township ELL Parent Center, Northwest Side Housing Center, the Resurrection Project, Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project, Westside Health Authority, and Woodlawn Childrens Promise Community. Collectively, they run the Parent Mentor Program.

Altogether, these 16 community-based organizations run Parent Mentor programs in 70 schools47 neighborhood schools in Chicago Public Schools, and 23 Illinois schools outside of Chicago. These schools outside of Chicago are in Aurora, Bolingbrook, the Quad Cities, Skokie and Zion. Further, six states are now replicating these programs: Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Not bad for a program that was started in Funston Elementary in Logan Square by LSNA 20 years ago.

On Tuesday, June 2, the Parent Mentoring Program of the Parent Engagement Institute graduated 603 Parent Mentors in a ceremony held at Gage Park High School on the Southwest Side of Chicago. As they reported, these 603 Parent Mentors have provided over 130,000 hours of academic support to over 13,000 students across 70 high poverty schools in Illinois. The program for the graduation listed each of the Parent Mentors by their school and the community partner.

Parent Mentors are women and men from the various communities who volunteer their time to work in the schools, helping students and teachers. They cannot work in a classroom in which their child attends. They work one-on-one with students, or in small groups. After volunteering 100 hours, they then are paid a small stipend by the State of Illinois for two hours of work a day. However, what often happens is that the Parent Mentors end up working many more hours and often the whole day.

In a handout provided by the Parent Mentor Program, they report:

Schools with the Parent Mentor Program increased by 35% the number of students that meet or exceed standards on the ISAT over a 10 year period;

Between 1990 and 2009, the dropout rate for students 16-19 decreased 61% in classes with parent mentors in the early grades;

Parent mentors more than doubled the networks of teachers and parents with whom they communicate regularly; and

This program has received national recognition, such as being featured on NBCs Today Show.

Further, it was estimated that the cost per student to have a Parent Mentor in their classroom is 33 cents per hour, less than $1.00 a day, while keeping administrative costs down: the administration of the statewide program is 5%, and local program administration costs about 4%.

The graduation ceremony itself was a reaffirmation of how Chicago can be, and how it should be. This reporter walked in to an assembly hall with a crowd that not only completely filled the auditorium, but people were standing along the walls. The audience was racially mixed, predominantly Latino but with many whites and African Americans as well, and people were wearing some of their finest clothes. The crowd was estimated to be about 70-75% female. Everyone there seemed excited and happy to be there. The program was conducted in English and Spanish. The graduation program was chaired by Gabriela Ruiz, a Parent Mentor graduate and leader with The Resurrection Project, and Lavida Boswell, a Parent Mentor graduate and leader with Woodlawn Childrens Promise Community.

From the beginning, this was a very positive program. Highlights included one speaker telling how Parent Mentors helped the principals, the students, the teachers and the schools: and we ourselves become better people because of the work we do. Another stated, Its amazing for the students! And there was testimony by teachers as to the importance of Parent Mentors.

Joanna Brown, director of the Parent Engagement Institute, came to the microphone. She asked the organizers and coordinators of the various school programs to stand. They were greeted with wild, sustained applause. She pointed out they were graduating 603 Parent Mentors, after a year of helping, motivating and believing in their students. Again, wild applause. Ms. Brown pointed out that the Parent Mentoring Program was all about growth: from one school 20 years ago, it grew to 9 schools, then 12, and now 70 schools in 16 Illinois communities. She pointed out that Parent Mentoring was a transformational experience for all mothers and fathers to work with these students.

Brown was followed by Raul Raymundo, the Chief Executive Officer of The Resurrection Project. Raymundo pointed out this was a movement, a campaign to get the best education possible for our children. He pointed out that parents are critical in educating their children. He wants better education for all.

Then came Illinois State Senator Martin Sandoval, the only legislator to attend the proceedings. He has been a strong supporter of the Parent Mentor Program over the years. He argued, To strengthen education, we need parental involvement. He argues that real leadership takes place in the classroom and the community: together, this is the best education for our children. There were short talks by Nancy Aardema, Executive Director of LSNA, who founded the program, and then by Jeff Bartow, Executive Director of SWOP, which joined the Parent Engagement Institute 10 years ago. It was under the leadership of Aardema and Bartow that the project developed.

Aardema raised an important issue. She pointed out there was money in the State of Illinois budget to support the Parent Mentor program. But then she pointed out that Governor Bruce Rauner has not signed the budget bill yet, so we have no budget. She congratulated all of the Parent Mentors who had recently traveled to Springfield, to fight for program funding, and asked them to stand. Again, more sustained applause.

Ms. Aardema told the Parent Mentors something important: there has been a study done of their children who are students, and not just all students. She told the Parent Mentors, Your kids are doing better because you are mentors!

Senator Sandoval returned to the microphone. He pointed out, Im here to celebrate the Moms and Dads who are here: they are the real heroes of our communities! Further, he argued, The program must exist for the good of all students. He said that money was in the Illinois budget advanced by the Democrats because of you, and because the Latino Caucus fought for the program.

Finally, instead of having every graduate cross the stage, they lined up representatives from each organization, and by school. A representative of each crossed the stage, getting their certificates. And to end the program, everyone got out their paper caps and tossed them into the air. Thus ended not only a festive occasion, but a celebration of a grassroots program that was making a huge difference in the lives of students in 70 schools across the state.

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To learn more about the Parent Mentoring Program and/or to volunteer, please contact Joanna Brown of the Parent Engagement Institute at jbrown@lsna.net.



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