Local educators make connections with parents and the community

by David RosEditorA conference was held at Westview Centennial Secondary School which sought to foster cooperation between parents, educators and the community at large in order to improve the overall quality of education for students.Glenford Duffus, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) superintendent for the NW2 family of schools, said that during the course of his many years as a teacher, principal and as a superintendent he's heard from parents and community members who wanted to get involved in their children's education, but there were not enough opportunities for them to become engaged.“As a result of wanting that kind of engagement, I explored what is it we were looking for, what is it that their perception of what we are trying to do as a school system is that didn't provide them those opportunities for engagement,” Duffus said.From these conversations, the idea for the conference, aptly named Making Connections was born. During the second annual conference, held on May 28, Rosenda Brown, a teacher at Gosford Public School, Yvonne Goulbourne, vice principal at Driftwood Public School and Joesiann Nelson, Youth Program manager at the Black Creek Community Health Centre conducted a panel on how to increase parental and community engagement in children's education. Dr. Don Dippo, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Education at York University chaired the panel.Brown, Goulbourne and Nelson are all currently completing their masters degrees in education at York University, and the panel was an opportunity for them to share their Masters research.“All three of us are working on parental engagement,” Brown said. “I'm working on it from the parents perspective in my school, Yvonne is coming from it from another perspective, which is the administrative perspective and Joesiann is coming from the community side of it.”They identified some of the obstacles to parental and community engagement in children's educations as cultural, personal and language barriers. Brown said that while some of the schools are trying to remove those obstacles, they still haven't been completely successful in fostering community engagement.“They don't know yet how to do that, so they still do the bake sale,” Brown said. “They still do the parent council, but if you look at the numbers in the parent council, there's the same amount of people, and the same people, so we need to open it up a little bit more so that the parents have a voice, not just the principals sitting in on the meeting.”According to Goulbourne, one of the biggest misconceptions some parents hold about the school system is the belief that educators don't really care about their children's education. However, she said she believes that if a solid parent teacher relationship can be built, then those misconceptions will be lessened.“If the relationship isn't built, then you're going to have all kinds of misconceptions, because we won't know how to talk to one another and understand one another,” Goulbourne said.Nelson said that if there is more parental and community involvement in the education system, children's academic performances will undoubtedly improve.“If you can establish that kind of relationship then the children and the youth are going to see that they're actually working together and it's not this versus that, me versus my parents,” Nelson said. “There's an actual relationship and that relationship is built out of mutual respect and built on trust and when the kids see that, then there's that willingness to achieve.”In addition, to the panel, there were also a number of seminars for students, teachers, parents and community members to participate in which were geared towards promoting a more active participation in the education system.There were 10 different workshops geared toward elementary school, secondary school, community safety as well as for senior students considering career options.Larry Maloney, a vice principal at Westview said that the seminars that were held this year came as a result of feedback from the workshops held at last year's conference.Maloney encourages both parents and community members to get involved in with the local schools.“Parents should not be divorced or estranged from communicating with the school that their child goes to and the community itself, even if you don't have a child in the school, you should know what's going on in the school, it's your taxpayers' money so understanding how the school's functioning, what is available within the schools, how you can help and volunteer too,” he said. “The more hands on deck, the more we can do, and as the old African saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.”