Voices for Education

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The Enlaces program not only empowers Latino students but also encourages their parents to get involved in leadership positions with educators and parents such as the PTA board.
The Enlaces program not only empowers Latino students but also encourages their parents to get involved in leadership positions with educators and parents such as the PTA board.

“The active, engaged, passionate parents make a true partnership,” says Channa Pickett. She is the director of Enlaces, a youth outreach program launched in October 2009 by Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs and nonprofit organization El Centro Hispano. The strengths-based program serves grades fourth through seventh at six elementary and middle schools to address the needs of Latino students and families. Student workshops, monthly parent workshops and new support networks have increased the involvement of the students and their families. The program has helped bridge the disconnect between Latino families and school activities.

Take, for example, George Watts Elementary, an Enlaces partner school. “In Watts there is a genuine desire for equal representation,” Channa says. The Office of Durham and Regional Affairs developed an Enlaces Parent Ambassador in 2012 to improve parents’ knowledge about the school system, develop leadership skills and strengthen the relationship and communication between parents and educators. Those values took center stage at a recent Watts PTA board meeting, where Hispanic liaisons joined school staff and board members to discuss future plans for the Montessori school.

“Principals, teachers and PTA leaders want parent leaders who represent the school’s diverse student body to serve in leadership roles,” Channa says. “Parents too feel it’s important to share their voices and ideas with school decision-making groups like PTA and SIT (school improvement teams), but there are often barriers to getting involved at a higher level. We worked with parents to increase their knowledge of how PTAs work and give them experiences to build their confidence in their leadership abilities. At the same time, we worked with school leaders to see how they could make their meetings more accessible and relevant to parents.”

The parents are not only representing the Latino community at Watts; they are actively planning a  summer Spanish literacy class for Watts students.

“I have the motivation to help the school with my ideas as a Latino parent and be part of the Hispanic liaison committee between the school and the Venezuelan parents,” Avilamar Castillo says. “We bring a lot of beautiful things to this community. We work with the Hispanic committee to bring ideas to the arts and culture committee.”

“I was tired of seeing the same face in every meeting,” Latino liaison, Emma Hernandez explains. “We needed to see new faces to help our children have the best education and we want the Latino parents to understand that.”

“It is really rewarding to see the results of our work as three Latina leaders are serving on the Watts Montessori PTA board this year,” Channa explains. “This is exactly what PTA is about – parents seeing a need at their school and taking the initiative to plan and carry out projects and bring resources to the school. We want these leaders to be successful, and we continue providing guidance and encouragement. They are smart and resourceful. The key is to give them the tools and knowledge to reach their goals, but not do the work for them.”

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