When parents are involved in their child’s education, the results are clear. Benefits of parental involvement extend beyond their own household — engaged parents can positively impact schools and communities. Yet parents are rarely brought into schools in ways that tap into their power and wisdom.
“Parents are the soldiers on the ground,” says Washington, D.C. parent Tara Brown. “We have insight you may not have, but we’re also caught up in the business of being parents and providers.”
In Washington, D.C., public charter schools educate close to 50% of public school students, but even these families are often unaware of, and absent from, conversations about policies that affect their educational options.
A few years ago, fifth-generation D.C. resident Maya Martin decided to take action. She recalls attending city meetings while running a local charter school where “I was often the only black woman in the room,” says Maya. She realized that “until we engaged black mothers and parents in the system, we would be creating schools for them, not with them.”
In 2016, Maya founded Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE), an organization dedicated to informing and connecting parents to the issues that affect their children. PAVE also helps create space for parents to advocate — not just for their individual child but for all children.
The Walton Family Foundation supports PAVE as part of our efforts to engage and elevate parents in the discussion about how best to create high-quality schools that meet the needs of their children and community.
Over the last two years, PAVE has recruited an all-parent governing board and engaged nearly 500 D.C. parents through events and workshops, teaching them how to blog about education, testify before city and state agencies and more.
These skills were particularly useful in 2017 when PAVE partnered with D.C.-based Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS) to create a solution for the lack of quality options on the eastern side of the Anacostia River, where students often had to travel across the entire city to attend school.
Together, PAVE and FOCUS selected eight parents and community members from Ward 8 who became the Parent Operator Selection Team, which surveyed local families about their priorities, created a Request for Proposals, vetted applicants and visited finalists.
Ultimately, the Ward 8 POST recommended that Chicago-based network LEARN Charter School Network open a school on land next to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.
With experience operating a campus for military families, Tara says LEARN was best equipped to work with children from low-income communities and children of military parents, who move often and experience disruptions in the home, similar to the trauma that affects many students in poverty. LEARN was recently granted approval to open a PreK-8 school on the military base in 2020.
“Nobody ever asks our opinion before the process starts, they usually just tell us the result and we deal with it,” says Tara, a Ward 8 POST board member, who has a child in fifth grade at Ward 8’s Leckie Elementary.
By providing expertise, meals and child care, Tara says the first-of-its-kind Ward 8 POST that PAVE and FOCUS convened “made us feel like our opinion was valued and created a safe space for us to go for our dreams.”