When my family first arrived at our new middle school we were excited. We had come from a small elementary with a deeply caring staff and a principal that always welcomed parent partnership. We looked forward to having similar experiences at their middle school.
Unfortunately, our recent experiences have not lived up to our expectations.
Even though my daughters LOVE their teachers and peers, I often hear them say they want to go to another school. This is a heartbreaking statement no parent wants to hear.
Since the beginning of school my girls have witnessed fights, been called derogatory names, been hit on the back of the head with a flying milk carton, and had their wallet stolen along with their peers.
Whether we like it or not, these formative experiences will be forged into my daughters memories of their 6th grade year.
As a former middle and high school educator, I know no school is perfect and have looked for ways to support my school. Nonetheless, my efforts have been met with great resistance.
This is the sign that greets families when they enter our school. It is emblematic of my family’s experience there.
It shows the picture of a White policeman holding his hand up to bar entry. It reads: “STOP! Security Alert!” And then goes on to explain rules and protocols for entering the site. I understand the EXTREME important of ensuring the safety of staff and students. Nonetheless in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, I was shocked to see such a sign at the entrance of our school.
Nowhere could I find a sign saying “Welcome families!”
When I showed the sign to my husband, he said it should read: “Talk to the hand.”
When I began hearing about fights on campus, I asked about supervision. I was told, “We’re good.”
When I learned about a parent engagement committee at the school and asked to join, I was told “We’re full.”
When I asked about starting an Black parent group last May, I was told “Let’s start one”. Despite my continued requests, I haven’t heard back since.
This experience has felt like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Despite these negative experiences, I don’t want to go to another school. My daughters have incredible teachers, caring after school staff, and amazing friends.
I want to be a part of a school community that welcomes me and my children. I want to be a part of a school community that seeks out diverse perspectives. I want to be a part of a school that appreciates the time and expertise I and other parents are willing to donate for the betterment of all our students.
Shawn Ginwright, author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education — How Urban Activists and Teachers are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart, says: “Research suggests that hopefulness is the function of agency, the belief that one can change things, and pathways, opportunities to act to achieve a desired goal.”
Despite these negative experiences, I choose to believe I can change things. (That’s agency.)
Now, Board of Education Commissioners, district and site administrators, program administrators and teachers… it’s your turn. As stewards, architects and engineers of our education system — I am asking YOU to take action. Build pathways to allow me, and other parents, students and staff to actively partner with our school.
Ali M. Collins is a San Francisco-based organizer and public school advocate who has worked in the field of education equity for almost twenty years. She is an independent agent of change and active blogger on SF Public School Mom (http://sfpsmom.com), where she writes about education policy, parenting, and race.