When 180 parents of middle and high school students graduated from parent engagement classes in Las Cruces, N.M. this week, it represented another milestone for the Parent Institute of Quality Education (PIQE), a San Diego-based nonprofit that has impacted more than 1.5 million under-served students from California to Virginia with its programs for parents.
The New Mexico school system is the first in the state to adopt one of PIQE's programs, which have been helping parents learn how to foster a positive educational environment for their children at home and at school since 1987.
In the near future, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan will visit a Los Angeles parent graduation to spotlight the organization's accomplishments, David Valladolid, PIQE's president and CEO, told Education Week after returning from a trip last week to Washington, D.C.
Valladolid welcomes Duncan's anticipated visit under any circumstances, but especially after California's educational funding cutbacks have impacted the organization's ability to deliver its programs, since they are often funded under a school's Title I allocations. Grants from businesses and foundations have supported its work, too, as is the case in Fresno, Calif., where PIQE is seeking funding to work in 27 K-12 schools over the next five years.
In its signature nine-week program, PIQE creates partnerships between parents, students and educators to further students' academic success, usually among low-income families unfamiliar with how to interact with schools, and how to help their children advance academically.
Various studies have been conducted to verify the organization's impact, which has been felt in particular across a generation of Californians, since the Golden State is where the program began and where it has expanded to the fullest extent to date. On an anecdotal basis, program graduates have their own success stories to share.
One such story PIQE cites is that of the a family in Los Angeles. "With 11 children, the mother and father had a 2nd and 3rd grade education. The parents attended PIQE about 17 years ago. As of today, all their children have gone to college, six in the University of California system. Eight have come back to serve as teachers and other professionals in the community from which they were raised," Valladolid said.
While Valladolid is quick to say that PIQE does not take credit for this accomplishment, he does believe that helping the Perez parents understand how to support their children in school laid the groundwork for some of this achievement.
When parents graduate at the end of the course, they receive a certificate at a ceremony often attended by their children and other relatives. Each class selects a parent to give a speech, and Valladolid says tears often flow, and not just among the families.
"One superintendent broke down telling the story of a farm worker who got up and summarized his feelings this way: 'I learned from PIQE that I am the architect of my children's future, and I must decide which bus my children get on—the one to the fields or the one to the university. I declare that my children will be on the bus to the university,'" Valladolid recalled.
PIQE classes are taught in 16 languages. Besides its bedrock parent education curriculum, the organization has created six additional programs to serve parents and students.
In Las Cruces, Valladolid kicked off the parent engagement program by presenting to an assemblage of educators and movers and shakers in the community. Best practices from PIQE were incorporated into a program Las Cruces now calls the Institute for Parent Engagement. Of the 180 graduates, at least 50 percent came to every class, and they were required to attend at least four classes to receive a certificate, said Olga Hawkins, the program's coordinator.
Besides learning about various tests like the SAT and ACT, how to calculate a GPA, and how to support their children's education at home, the parents learned "how important it is for them to become partners with the schools, how not to be afraid of talking to teachers and counselors, how to be proactive, not reactive," Hawkins explained.
Not everyone who participated was low income, she noted. Some had their master's degrees, but still felt they took away information they did not know about education today in public schools, and how to support their children's academic success.
After the success of the pilot this year, the Las Cruces program will expand to elementary schools and more middle and high schools, she said.