Combining the power of art, technology and innovation with neighborhood values and culture to revitalize Syracuse’s Near West Side neighborhood.
By Joe Diglio, SU student beat writer
Nearly 350 parents have signed up for free classes, offered by the Syracuse City School District, in subjects such as teaching your child Spanish, how to deal with school bullies, and Zumba.
The program, called Parent University, opened in October with a kick-off event at Onondaga Community College. Hundreds of parents turned out to snack on a free breakfast buffet and listen to Superintendent of Schools Sharon Contreras explain her vision of Parent University.
“We stand here today delivering on our promise to inform, involve, and empower our parents,” she said. Parent University, she added, helped accomplish two main goals: holding both children and adults accountable for students’ success, and improving communication at school, at home, and between the two facilities. She also told parents the first time she heard about Parent University, while interning in the Philadelphia public school system. When Contreras came to Syracuse, she brought the idea to Say Yes to Education, a non-profit organization that collaborates with city schools to improve education district wide, and its executive director of parent family engagement, Monique Wright-Williams. “I introduced the concept to Monique Wright-Williams and Say Yes to Education, and they ran with it,” she said.
Betty Stevens, who has a son at Fowler High School, joined a large number of parents who signed up for a class about identifying and dealing with bullying. Stevens recalled an incident in 2008 when her son was bullied. “I’ve been concerned for him,” Stevens said.
Christina Gilchrist, who has a daughter at Webster Elementary, said she was interested in taking advantage of what Parent University had to offer. She also signed up for the bullying workshop, with the goal, she said, of learning “how to deal with it if it ever happens—whether she’s a bully or being bullying—because I have no clue.” Gilchrist continued, saying, “I couldn’t even say if it happened today, how I’d go about it.” Remembering her own days as a student, she said that any student could be susceptible to an attack from a fellow classmate. “It might not happen today,” she said, “but tomorrow’s a whole different day.”
Wright-Williams said she was interested in the program from the beginning. After Contreras approached with the idea, she went out and attended community meetings and other public events to connect with parents and gauge what type of workshops they would be interested in. After the initial surveys, she met with parents and other community members every three weeks for a four-month period in order to outline the details of the program. “I tried to make it as much of a community effort as I possibly could,” she said. Wright-Williams added that she has enjoyed the large turnout and positive feedback. “People are pleased with how things are going,” she said.
Education speaker and former high school principal Baruti Kafele addressed the summit as the keynote speaker. He talked about his own upbringing, having been raised by a single parent. Kafele said he had to repeat a grade in high school, but he continued because his mother never gave up on him. Kafele told parents that if he could succeed through his own obstacles, they could help their children do the same. He said if they look at the “achievement gap” of success among different students and start identifying it as an “attitude gap,” they would begin to see a difference. “Here’s the variable you control: attitude,” he said. “As parents you have the ability to close that gap right in your own household.”