During a morning in mid-October, I stood on a corner in Washington, D.C., accompanied by two friends as we patiently waited for the illuminated walking man to give us safe passage across the street. The view before us was an expansive building stretching the majority of the block of Maryland Avenue — the United States Department of Education. It was our destination that day – where we would meet 250 other parents and educators from across the nation.
Soon, we found ourselves among smiling faces and friends – all bustling about and mission driven.
Our community traveled from all over the country to participate in the third Parent Camp sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Like many of the other attendees, I was first introduced to the concept of Parent Camp last year and, of course, decided to return. The idea of an “un-conference” was compelling to me. During an un-conference, participants brainstorm session topics and then vote on which ones will be discussed. Parent Camp 2016 was a forum of equal voices, shared expertise and the literal “we are all in this together” philosophy of engagement. My first thought was, “This event is going to be filled with ‘my people’.” Individuals, regardless of their titles, positions or backgrounds who truly care about education and all that it encompasses came together to talk.
This year’s theme was literacy. It was this focus that prompted me to inch a little closer and to step into the next level of engagement. I raised my hand and volunteered to facilitate a discussion! As a parent, I felt that taking this step was daunting, but I also came to Parent Camp to seek out new experiences and different types of engagement. I had never done something like this before – but I couldn’t think of a better place to make the leap.
The day was filled with robust conversations, meeting new friends and allies, connecting across state lines on issues that resonate and a realization that we are very much all in this together for our children’s education. The opportunity to interact with individuals from the Office of Civil Rights to our nation’s very first Family Ambassador, Frances Frost, all transpired in six short hours. I believe the hope for those who were lucky enough to participate in this Parent Camp experience is to take the inspiration back into your home state and communities and begin to engage with your state and local districts. I know I plan to keep that momentum going and will participate next month in my home state when Virginia hosts their first Parent Camp!
Kristin Kane is parent of three children and an information specialist for the Virginia’s Parent Training and Information Center, where she works with families with special education needs throughout the state. You can follow her on Twitter: @kristinmatzkane