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Parent Engagement Development Needed

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Guest blogger Amy Quinn is a 2013 GCIPL (Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership) Northern Kentucky Fellow and mother of two in the Kenton County School District. She is a stay-at-home mom and active volunteer at Ft. Wright Elementary School and, in her spare time, writes for FamilyFriendlyCincinnati.com.

As a stay-at-home mother, I always knew that I wanted to be as active as I could be at my children's school when the time came for them to venture off to kindergarten and beyond. Making the choice to be at home with my kids rather than being a working parent meant, to me, that I needed to find a way to make every minute I had with them count. However, diving into the world of education as a parent volunteer can be very intimidating. Working parent, stay at home parent, grandparent, aunt, etc....entering your child's school and developing a working relationship with its staff and teachers can be a daunting task. Not understanding all of the educational jargon, or not feeling you are entirely welcome, can be very off-putting for even the most outgoing person.

I showed up to my first PTA meeting the year my oldest son was starting kindergarten, feeling intimidated and having no real idea what to expect outside of scenes I'd seen in movies...bake sales, fundraisers, fall festivals. I dove in headfirst, taking on the school's Fall Festival straight out of the gate. Go big or go home, right? Events, activities, chairperson positions...I've done it all since that first fateful meeting in September of 2008. It's all important, and it all makes a difference, but I still felt that I had more to give.

At a monthly PTA meeting a fellow member presented her proposal to create a "Go Green Science Night" at the school as her GCIPL project. As she explained to us what Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership was I became intrigued. This program, class, or whatever it was, seemed to be a way to take my own parent involvement a step further. A way to get more involved and possibly better educated about the way our educators teach our children and administrators make decisions for our students. When she mentioned that applications were being accepted for the following year's session I decided I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from applying. So I did.

I was accepted to the 2013 Northern Kentucky session of the Governor's Institute for Parent Leadership and began a new journey...one that would open my eyes and give me the opportunity to take my parent involvement a step further. Six days total - a Friday and Saturday once a month for three consecutive months - seemed like it would be tiring but informational, and I felt I was up to the task. However, having no real idea what to expect this process to look like, it was easy to let my imagination run wild and once again get intimidated by the idea of it all. Did I get myself in too deep? Would I even know what was going on? Would I be able to keep up? Would I fail?! I won't pretend that I didn't think about backing out a time or two, to give someone with more education a chance to be gifted with this opportunity.

I didn't back out, though. I showed up for the first session in August of 2013 with a bit of a nervous flutter in my stomach and a determination to do everything I could do to make the most of the two days ahead of me. I need not have worried at all. Yes, it was a lot of information. A LOT of information! The thing was... I never felt intimidated by it, never felt that I was in too deep, and never felt that I would fail. I was led through the maze of educational jargon and acronyms masterfully by a team of amazing people with the wonderful April Roberts-Traywick at the helm. They did everything in their power to make sure that every single person sitting in that room felt welcomed, wanted, appreciated, and able to succeed!

Common Core, learning styles, CSIPs, IEPs, school report cards, delivery targets, AMOs, KCAs... those are all part of my personal lexicon now. Presenters from the Prichard Committee, Kentucky Department of Education and many more community members and partners, went above and beyond to present us with information that would enable us to navigate the sea of educational jargon in order to not only become more involved parents and caregivers ourselves, but to help uninvolved parents in our schools and communities find ways to become involved as well.

My fellow GCIPL participants and I shared our own experiences with education, learned how our school's learning environment differed from our fellows in the room, discovered how many varied and wonderful reasons we all had for sitting in those seats next to each other, learned how our own personal learning styles effect our learning process. We learned to read and understand the school report card, disaggregated data from state testing, and CSIP (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan). We learned how to take a table full of people with different backgrounds, learning styles, and reasons for coming to the table, and facilitate a productive conversation.

It sounds like a ton of information, and it is. Fridays were long... in our seats from 9 AM until 8 PM. Saturdays were early... starting at 8 AM. The first weekend I felt fully saturated with information and exhausted by the time I went home Saturday afternoon. The second weekend, I was ready to learn. With one weekend under my belt I felt more prepared and ready to absorb all of that info like a sponge. It was still tiring, but the good tired you feel when you know you worked hard and did a great job. By the last weekend, I was sad it was coming to an end. I felt like there was so much more I could still learn from those incredible people...surely we should add another hour, day, weekend?!

I consider it the single best thing I may have ever done in relation to my children's education. I am armed now. I have the tools and knowledge I need to make sure that my children, and those in our schools, have the tools THEY need to succeed! I know how to ask questions and decipher the answers. I feel like an active participant in their education now...beyond homework, spelling lists, and book reports. I have a team...an army, really...of fellow GCIPL graduates to help me along my way.

EVERY parent should have this opportunity. Every PERSON should have this opportunity! Anyone who believes that today's children are tomorrow's leaders, scientists, adventurers, discoverers...tomorrow's teachers...needs to have the knowledge that enables them to make the best choices and help remove roadblocks for our students today! It's important to mention that without the support of community partners...namely Toyota, State Farm, Duke Energy, and the Prichard Committee... none of this would have been possible.

If you are a parent like I was...doing everything you can do but wanting to do so much more... I encourage you to explore the Governor's Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership website and consider whether becoming a GCIPL Fellow might be right for you. You really have everything to gain and nothing to lose!

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