Danielle Myles schedules life around her 8-year-old daughter, Curelle. The number of hours in a day is limited, but Myles is committed to doing everything she can to support Curelle and see her excel. Myles is active in her daughter’s school, shuttles her to dance class and Girl Scouts meetings, helps her with her homework and, in between, practices math and reading exercises, often in the car.
"As a parent, the challenges can be overwhelming,” Myles said. “We juggle a lot of things, but I’m determined to fit it all in and be there to support Curelle in every way possible.”
Myles admits she doesn’t have all the answers when it comes to engaging in her daughter’s education, particularly with her school and teachers, but she does have resources and a network of other people who can help her find them. At Glenmount Elementary and Middle School in Baltimore, the Partners in Education (PIE) collaborative program recognizes the power of parents and grandparents to improve academic success for children and demonstrates a shared responsibility of both families and schools to assure success for children in school.
PIE works to help children in the community by empowering their parents, grandparents or other relative caregivers to serve as equal, well-informed partners in advocating for and securing quality education. The children’s caregivers also learn how to better advocate for their children, foster relationships with teachers and school leadership and build a sense of community focused on helping all children thrive in school and in life. These are skills that will enable them to help improve educational programs and ensure their children’s success throughout their academic career. Supported with a two-year, $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) to Generations United, the partnership also includes the Center for Law and Education, the Grandfamilies PTSA and leaders from Glenmount Elementary and Middle School.
Myles says she welcomes the knowledge and help from other grandparents in the community, because she has been able to access wisdom and perspectives gained through their experience and hindsight.
Annette Saunders, a grandmother of two and a member of the PIE program, does not have grandchildren who attend Glenmount, but she participates in PIE, because she values the importance of caring for community – parents and their children. She feels a responsibility to help the next generation receive all of the tools and support they need to succeed in school.
”We live in a time in our society when parents are being rushed, and everyone is busy. And in spite of that, children still require direct attention. They need a lot of support,” Saunders said. “Grandparents are fortunate enough to have patience and understanding. We have grandparents here in our community who are willing and able to help, guiding and restoring some of the values that have been lost along the way.
“Even though a grandparent may not have children in the school, or even school-age children, they understand the importance and value of a good education. I believe they are willing to sacrifice their energy and time to support children,” she said.
“Because every generation wants to see children thrive, parents and grandparents can be effective partners,” said Jaia Peterson Lent, Generations United deputy executive director.
Through the 119 participants in PIE (one-third of whom are grandparents), the Glenmount school community coalesced into a steering committee comprised of parents, grandparents and school leaders. The core group worked to recruit others, so they could develop a family engagement plan and policies that address community concerns and empower parents to use their voices as effective advocates for their children.
“We have seen the impact of PIE grow, as it has evolved,” Lent said. “We didn’t have much involvement in the beginning, but we now have a strong sense of community building. From attending our meetings, parents, grandparents and the school (leaders) have opened lines of communication. Parents are starting to really form positive working relationships with school staff in ways that we had not seen before.”
Parents are demonstrating engagement in a range of ways – from helping their children with homework to learning about how to help improve the curriculum for all children in the school, Lent said. The group also chartered a PTA for Glenmount that will continue the parent and grandparent engagement work beyond the term of the WKKF grant.
In fact, because of her desire to support her daughter, Myles has stepped in as president of the PTA. She plans to work with other parents so that they know how to use their voices to support their children’s education.
“PIE has helped me become a stronger advocate for my daughter. I am more aware of what she should be learning, and I am learning the different ways I can empower her to be a better student. I have been able to see the impact I’m making,” she said. “I plan to support her any way I can, so she gets a very good education.”
Curelle, who is in third grade, hasn’t figured out all of her future plans, but she already has some ideas.
“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, a rancher, vet and a dolphin owner,” she said. “My mom and dad said I have to listen very well in elementary school, in order to get to middle school and then go to high school and college and all that. I can learn that anything is possible. Just go with your dreams.”