In March of this year I was notified that I had been chosen by Parenting magazine to represent Connecticut at the third-annual Mom Congress on Education and Learning Conference in Washington, D.C. held April 29th through May 1st.
They said I was chosen for my outstanding contributions and dedication to improving local schools. I was flattered and a little shocked. I joked that no one else in Connecticut applied. I don’t view my involvement in the school as anything extraordinary. I simply appreciate the wonderful work our school does. I want to support the incredible teachers, staff, and administrators that work daily to give all of our children the best shot at a good life.
I do recognize on a daily basis that I am blessed to be a stay at home mom and able to give all of this time to our school. Much of my success is due to the fact that my loving husband is incredibly supportive of my role as a mother and very tolerant of the many things that don’t really let me “stay at home” very much.
Mom Congress is an Education and Learning Conference sponsored by Parenting magazine in response to the ever increasing role that parents play in advocating for change in the education system. There were fifty-one 2012 delegates that represented each state and the District of Columbia in addition to the returning delegates from the past two years for a total of about 120 women who
are getting things done in their local areas. We heard from many speakers including Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, Sam Kass, White House Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for healthy food initiatives, and Bob Lanyer, 8 time NBA All star who is the Community Ambassador for NBA Cares.
There were three main themes that I took away from the conference this year: The first is the need for Family-School Partnerships, the second is the importance of Early Childhood Education and Literacy, and finally the need to empower parents to make a difference.
Family-school partnerships revolved around the importance of parental engagement and truly being partners with teachers. The main workshop was facilitated by NBC News Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis. We heard from the Vice President of the National Education Association (NEA) Lily Esklesen, Betsy Landers, President, National PTA, and Sean Slade, Director of Healthy School Communities. The focus of this workshop was centered around a survey conducted by the NEA and Parenting magazine of over 1,000 parents and teachers of elementary aged children. This survey addressed Parent/Teacher Communications and the roadblocks that may exist to having an effective partnership. The results will be fully released later this year but the initial findings show a gap in the perception of communication, collaboration, and support between the two groups. The question, of course, is how we bridge these gaps and truly become partners.
We heard from many speakers about the importance of early childhood education, literacy, and how groups can support these initiatives. Mark Shriver, Vice President of US Programs, Save the Children spoke about the importance of quality early childhood education. Earl Martin Phalen, CEO of Reach Out and Read spoke of the importance of getting books into the hands of children. I was shocked to learn that there are children in our country and perhaps in our town that have limited access to books, that don’t possess books of their own, and do not have parents who read out loud to them. Early childhood literacy is an indicator of LIFETIME success. Arne Duncan summed it up best when he said “When we fail to educate on the front end. We all pay on the back end”.
The one theme that ran alongside all of the discussions and tied it all together was how we could be empowered as parents and community members to improve education and opportunities in our local area. We received training and tips from many people including a Vice President of Communications and Public Relations from the UN Foundation, Byron Garrett, Chair, National Family Engagement Alliance, and Sal Khan, Founder and Executive Director of The Khan Academy. We were given strategies for having a voice: lessons on starting grassroots movements, making connections, turning our passion into power, reaching out to media, and being an effective spokesperson.
I came back with three items I would like to focus on.The first is a long term goal of creating a system of funding for Ledyard schools that is dependable, sustainable, and sufficient to meet the needs of all students. The second is identifying how we can, as Ledyard parents and community members, support our teachers and what they are already doing in the classroom by providing them with our resources, time, and skills. The third is reaching out to fellow parents and community members to help give them the skills to support education in our town.
The bottom line of this whole experience for me is that we need to come together as a team, town wide, parents, teachers, elected officials, community-members, and administrators to ensure that our students are receiving the best possible education and the best shot at becoming responsible adults and contributing citizens.