Detroit Parent Network – Empowering Parent Advocates
“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.”
- C. Everett Koop
Detroit’s economic and educational challenges are well-documented by local, regional and national press, but what’s not often captured is the resilience of Detroiters. Detroit parents want to help their children succeed in school, but often are burdened by the harsh realities of living in a tough urban environment.
The Detroit Parent Network encourages parents to take an active role in improving education and quality of life in Detroit.
Sharlonda Buckman, a Detroit native, former Detroit Public Schools (DPS) student and mother of two Detroit kids, has served as the executive director of the Detroit Parent Network since 2005. She understands all too well the challenges that Detroit kids and parents face.
“I was a kid that DPS failed,” Buckman said. “Because the community came together and supported me, though, I was able get a quality education and go to graduate school. I’m blessed that enough people invested in me that I’m able to give back in a significant way. But for every one of me, there’s 100 or 200 folks who didn’t make it. I feel like I have to be the voice for all those other kids who didn’t make it, so that at some point this system of failure stops.”
There are a number of challenges to educating children in Detroit, including low attendance, poverty, illiteracy among families in the city, and a low graduation rate among DPS high schools.
“We find ourselves eliminating barriers to parents being involved,” Buckman said. “It’s not that they don’t care about education, it’s just that right now they have to figure out how to feed the kids, keep the house, find a job, and deal with the other realities of their day-to-day lives.”
The Detroit Parent Network empowers parents by offering the skills-training and resources needed to advocate for their children’s education and other issues that impact their overall well-being.
“We support what’s best for the child and support what parents choose,” Buckman said. “We will always make sure parents know what excellent schools look like – governance and location don’t matter – so that parents can shop for the best school for their child.
“Our focus on young people and their education is simple. Making sure they have a quality education is the only thing that’s going to give them a fighting chance in what is now a global economy.”
Listening to Parents – Local Support Centers and Parent Groups
With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and a contract with DPS, the Detroit Parent Network has established eight Parent Network Centers located within DPS schools as well as one located at the network’s Youthville Detroit headquarters in downtown Detroit. The Youthville location serves parents throughout the city.
“Detroit parents want local support and have told us that for years (through various surveys), so we knew we were on track in setting up these centers,” Buckman said. “They’ve been a huge hit, even more than we had hoped, and we’re thrilled by the way parents are embracing them. We’ve had over 20,000 units of service to parents in just the first year of operation (2010-2011 school year).”
The Parent Network Centers provide a number of valuable services and resources to parents, including academic toolkits, parenting classes and workshops, support groups as well as connections to local community partners, such as Gleaners Food Bank, Focus HOPE and St. John’s Health Systems’ free clinics. The centers also have job boards as well as computer and internet access for parents who don’t have these resources at home.
Additionally, the Detroit Parent Network works across all DPS schools to build parent groups and ensure there is a parent group of record within every single school and that parents know where their Parent Network Center is located. Each center has about 10 schools that feed into it.
Taking the Message to the Streets
For all the parents that have come through the Parent Network Centers’ doors and for those who have engaged in the parent groups, the network has ongoing efforts to reach out to disconnected parents and caregivers across the city.
“A lot of parents come through our doors,” Buckman said. “But when I started this job six years ago, I said there are so many more parents who will never come through this door, but that need our help the most, and we have to go get them.”
With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Detroit Parent Network purchased a parent mobile to further extend the organization’s community outreach.
“Mondays through Thursdays we’re out knocking on doors conducting short surveys of parents – asking them about where they’re sending their kids to school and why, what they need, passing out academic toolkits, distributing the Excellent Schools Detroit scorecard, and basically just working to build relationships,” Buckman explained.
“Now with the parent mobile, we’re also hosting “On the Block Thursdays” in a new neighborhood each week, late spring through October. We give out books, hold mini workshops on everything from managing your finances to how to choose a good school, and give out food bags from our partners at Gleaners Food Bank. We also bring some fun with face painting and a bounce house for the kids. We want the events to be fun, social and educational as we let folks know the Detroit Parent Network is here for them.”
A Quality Education for All
“When I’m out in the community, I always tell people our children’s fates are intertwined,” Buckman said. “It’s not just about my kids being okay; it’s about all kids being okay.”
The Detroit Parent Network, its staff and volunteers are tirelessly committed to being a voice for parents, to strengthening the network of families that will help bring the education reform needed in the city of Detroit.
“When all our kids are graduating high school on time without remediation, and not just going to college, but graduating college, that’s when we’ll know we’ve been successful,” Buckman said.