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Pedro Noguera at Parent University

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Katherine Saviskas

On Oct. 5 the District kicked off its second year of Parent University, an initiative led by the Office of Parent, Family, Community Engagement & Faith-Based Partnerships, with a talk by Pedro Noguera, urban education scholar and professor at New York University.

Noguera, who delivered the keynote for the Notebook‘s panel on building a positive school climate, said that parent involvement is crucial to student success.

"Our best students have parent involvement," Noguera said, "If we’re concerned about achievement, then we’ve really got to be concerned with parent involvement."

Noguera said that "accountability is a two-way street," but emphasized that the burden is on schools to find effective ways to engage parents and maintain their involvement. It is important for schools to establish these relationships early in the school year; schools and districts can’t just sit back and expect parents to come to them, Noguera said.

"We need parents to feel comfortable coming to school and coming often," he said, proposing that schools "start the year with some kind of social activity to build community – a potluck, a barbeque, like an extended family, like a village." He suggested that schools could host a fathers vs. teachers basketball game to build community, then ask participating fathers to become involved in school leadership opportunities.

Teacher-parent relationships and collaboration are essential to the success of the child, explained Noguera. Schools should emphasize that "we want the same thing [the child’s success],” find ways to work together towards that goal, and actively nurture trust and mutual respect so teachers and parents can recognize their shared interests.

"Differences related to race, class and culture often make it difficult to form effective partnerships between parents and schools," Noguera said. Educators often lack “cultural competence” and sometimes misconstrue parent behavior as a lack of caring – such as failure to come to school regularly due to long work hours and other family pressures. Because of this, Noguera said, principals must actively train their teachers on how to do parent-teacher workshops and communicate appropriately across cultural, racial, class. and linguistic differences.

On an individual level, schools can develop parent-school contracts to determine the expectations of those involved in the child’s education, he said. They can also create opportunities for site-based leadership, parental involvement in decision-making, parent and family academic enrichment, and hold classes on effective parenting.

If schools and districts work to build relationships, Noguera believes it is reasonable to expect parents to show up for parent-teacher conferences, where teachers and parents can "clarify roles, rights, and responsibilities in their partnership," and where parents can give teachers advice regarding their child’s personality, history, needs, and strengths.

Parents then need to take teachers’ advice on how to educate their children at home. Parents must "reinforce at home what happens at school," said Noguera, adding that all parents are accountable for feeding their child breakfast and ensuring they go to bed at a reasonable hour and complete their homework.

Also, parents must serve as advocates for their children. This is particularly important with immigrant parents who come from countries where they trust the education system to provide children with what they need.

"Immigrant parents a lot of times don’t understand the American system," said Noguera. "In this country, you can’t just trust the schools. Sometimes if you’re not involved, kids don’t get what they need. Many immigrant parents don’t understand that they need to be advocates." And for students whose parents are absent, Noguera said community organizations must stand up and advocate for these youth.

Noguera’s talk was the first of three Parent University lectures this fall. The next two will happen on Nov. 9 and Dec. 7.

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