Hartford Parent University Trains Advocates for Children … and Adults

Hartford Parent University Trains Advocates for Children … and Adults

By Kent Ashworth, reprinted from Education Matters, Volume 6, Issue 4

 
Parents once too intimidated to come forward and address the Board of Education on important school issues now have a foundation supporting their confidence: the Hartford Parent University (HPU). With unanimous Board backing this week for a plan to provide 200 more parents with training this spring, only one point preceded the vote. It was about the dollars.
 
“My reluctance is only that this is such a small amount of money,” Mayor Pedro Segarra said of the $79,166 contract for HPU’s next round of outreach. “I think we need more resources.”
 
So does Milly Arciniegas, the president of the Hartford Parent University. She previously served for four years as the head of the citywide umbrella group known as the Hartford Parent Organizations Council (HPOC). From that experience, and her own volunteer work as a parent and 13-year advocate for better education outcomes throughout the city, Ms. Arciniegas knows the drill when it comes to steadily fighting for children and school accountability.
 
“The biggest thing about parent engagement,” she says, “is, if you have a policy, you have to follow it.”
Recalling her days as a volunteer at Kennelly School, Ms. Arciniegas says, she saw children trying to help their parents glean what was being said at PTO meetings. So she grabbed Bosnian-, Portuguese- , and Spanish-speaking parents who were fluent in English and “volunteered” them to help translate. Now, for her Hartford Parent University participants, she is back at it, grabbing education specialists to help translate bureaucratese into clear language.
 
In all of the clamor about the achievement gap in Connecticut, Ms. Arciniegas offers a compelling argument for parent engagement: “We are the gap – the adults,” she contends, and hence a grassroots movement to value education is crucial.
 
Funding for the HPU efforts this spring will come through the District’s Office of Early Literacy and Parent Engagement, Assistant Superintendent Eddie Genao, who leads that department, told the Board Monday night.
 

Bake Sales Aren’t Enough

 
When she became the president of HPOC, Arciniegas was presented with the District’s bylaws on the organization. Reading and studying, she realized that Hartford parents could write their own bylaws – and they did. They also saw that federal Title I law requires the District to hold annual meetings and biennial reviews related to parent engagement – and with District support, she got that going. “We changed the dynamic,” she says today.
 
This week, testimony at the Board meeting came from several graduates of the Hartford Parent University. One, LaShawn Robinson, told of how, since obtaining the skills to advocate for her child, conversations that used to be humiliating for her have become comfortable. She now has a job and multiple job offers, she said.
 
“These are the stories I love – and everyone has a story,” Ms. Arciniegas observes. There is a win-win-win here: Parents learn how to address their children’s needs, establish relationships that enhance teacher effectiveness, and very often go back to school themselves.
 
The curriculum of the Hartford Parent University emphasizes making learning enjoyable – a necessity when you’re boring into the details of special education law or services for English Language Learners. It’s exciting when parents set aside their suspicions and take the initiative for their own development as well as that of their children, Ms. Arciniegas says. “We don’t make them feel like they’re just another number.”
 
Here is the Hartford Parent U. listing of learning sessions, in English and Spanish.
 
The Hartford Parent University website.
 
Noting that the State Department of Children and Families has created a foster parent university program from the HPU model and that an HPU graduate from Norwich is taking the concept there, Ms. Arciniegas has high hopes about this work of investing in the community. We do, too.
 
Reprinted from January 30, 2014 Education Matters

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