Parents across the country, with different lived experiences, are united by our belief that we can be the catalysts to create transformative change that benefits all children in our public education system. That change can only happen when we commit to truly embracing the power of parent participation, collaboration, and shared responsibility in creating a more equitable and inclusive education system. We are more than just participants in parent-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. We are on the frontline, fighting for and actively changing policies that will positively impact not only our children today, but also future generations of students.
Being on the frontline means refusing to accept the status quo, choosing instead to harness our frustration into a drive for change and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with schools and teachers to face the challenges ahead and ensure children have what they need to be successful. For example, as schools began to reopen following the pandemic, a bus driver shortage in Buffalo, NY threatened to halt access to afterschool programs. The children who rely on buses to go to and from school are our lower-income, children of color – the same children who were most impacted by learning loss and the mental health toll caused by the pandemic. School closures during the pandemic and the subsequent lack of transportation left our children feeling further disconnected and facing more instability. This, in turn, led to more frustration, more fighting at school, and higher school suspension rates at a time when they were already higher than ever before.
In response, parents mobilized other parents, joining forces with the University of Buffalo, as well as local stakeholders and organizations, to form the Buffalo Education Equity Task Force. The task force met weekly with educators and leaders at every level of government to address the transportation crisis and lack of equitable access to afterschool programs. Working together, we arrived at a resolution that ensured equal access and reliable transportation to programs for all our children.
That is transformation with tangible results.
Of course, transformation is an ongoing process and relies on trust as the cornerstone of successful partnerships. By fostering trusting relationships between parents and school leaders, we lay the groundwork for collaboration and positive change. For teachers, this might look like reaching out not only to address challenging classroom behaviors, but also to tell us when our children are achieving and thriving. This seemingly small action can be transformational, bringing perspective and building the trust needed to move mountains. It shows parents that educators see our children as precious, complicated, still-growing human beings, while also allowing them to understand the depth of our commitment and investment.
Parents and families must also do our part. By actively embracing our crucial role in our children’s education, we unlock the key to their academic and personal growth. We must continue partnering with educators to develop strategies that address the needs of our children, ensuring they receive the support and resources necessary to succeed and thrive in life, not just pass through K-12 education. Only by working together can we create an environment that fosters a love for learning, embraces diversity, and promotes equity.
Our commitment to transforming the education system extends beyond our individual experiences. We advocate for systemic changes that benefit all underserved communities. Among other issues, we have pushed for legislation to minimize suspensions by supporting the mental health needs of our students in restorative – rather than punitive – ways. By joining forces with other parents, community leaders, and policymakers, we amplify our collective voice and advocate for policies that promote equity and dismantle systemic barriers.
We strive to create a more inclusive and just education system for all children. Children should be free to learn about, express, and celebrate their identities while also demanding the right to read proficiently and have a pathway to success and opportunity in the future. Working together, we can overcome the historical barriers and biases that have hindered our children’s educational journeys. Through open dialogue, mutual respect, and shared goals, we forge a path toward an inclusive and supportive education system. Our children’s generation and generations to come are counting on us.
Samuel, Pascale and Tonya are parent leaders with National Parents Union (NPU). With more than 1,000 affiliated parent organizations in all 50 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, NPU is an authentically parent-led organization that seeks to channel the power of parents to improve the lives of children, families and community across the United States.