“Respect, Reciprocity, and Real Work”: Decolonizing Classrooms through Parent Engagement

By Adam Delgado ’12

At the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Seattle, we were challenged to think about integration from a variety of perspectives: as researchers, community activists, and global citizens. One of the most encouraging aspects of the conference was the opportunity to meet other people from across the country that are dedicated to more actively including parents in the lives of their children. Indeed, I learned about many instances where active participation in their children’s education at school also empowered parents to engage important issues affecting their own communities.

One example that resonated with me was that of Joanna Brown and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in Chicago. During the panel discussion “How Parent Organizing Can Make a Difference in Education,” Ms. Brown advocated for the “decolonization” of classrooms and for schools to be placed at the center of community building in order to engage immigrant parents and foster partnerships more intimately and effectively. I was inspired by her stories of a parent mentorship program within local public schools that has also empowered parents to work as health care outreach workers, register their families for state health insurance, form immigration committees and even testify before the state legislature. This is a direct example of how immigrant parents are very much invested in the education and well-being of their students, and can mobilize to directly impact their own communities in meaningful ways. Her mantra of “Respect, Reciprocity, and Real Work” demonstrated how these remarkable outcomes were achieved by engaging parents in their children’s success at school, which only reaffirms how working in partnership with parents yields tremendous results for broader community.

During the conversations that followed, I was struck by the innovative approaches and quantifiable results that each of these parents and activists had produced in partnership with their communities. As I continue my own field research, I am thrilled to learn how local parents are working together with schools to provide a excellent education for their children.

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