Indianapolis Public Schools has announced that it will roll out a new program at all of its schools in August that it hopes will nudge more parents to play an active role in their child’s education and the community around them.
The goal of new parental involvement educators at every school will be to “actively train parents to use learning strategies with their children that will help their schoolwork improve and organize community engagement events that will help not only parents, but the community play a bigger role in IPS schools,” said Deb Black, the district’s parental involvement coordinator.
“A lot of times, people think parent involvement is just parents coming up to the school,” Black said. “But we have to train our parents in leadership. We have to help them feel comfortable to volunteer and know what to do at home with their children.”
Danny Graham, who worked as a welder for 20 years, will fill the role at School 14. He attended IPS training last week for the new parent educators. Many of them are IPS parents, but some, like Graham, are not.
Graham said he took a leap of faith when he saw a job posting for Playworks, an AmeriCorps organization that helps supervise low-income children during recess. He had long been interested in working with children in the community he grew up in, he said.
Through his work with that program, Graham was recruited to work with parents.
“It’s my passion,” Graham, 41, said. “When I’m in an atmosphere with children, it’s like oxygen to me.”
Graham has an advantage over other parent educators – he knows the school he’s going to be serving.
“I know that the biggest challenge I’m going to have with my school is that 45% of the school is homeless or in shelters,” he said.
With that sort of challenge, even seemingly simple opportunities for parents to get involved aren’t always easy. Just getting to school events, for example, is tough for families that don’t have cars.
It will be Graham’s job to know what’s going on in the lives of his students and their families so he can find ways the school can help.
“They may not be at the same household, or they might be in a shelter, or the parent might work several jobs, or they may be the caretaker of a family member – there’s a lot of obstacles there,” he said. “So knowing that, and with the training I’m receiving, I’m learning how to set strategies.”
“The new jobs are a transition for IPS away from a similar job that’s been in place for decades: parent liaisons,” Black said. But Black thinks the redefined job will show better results for families because everyone will be doing the same work.
“This year, we’re all coming under the same title and doing the same work so that every school has the opportunity to touch kids and families where they are,” Black said. “Each community has specifics about it, but the common thread is all communities have parents and children.”
Chalkbeat Indiana is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.