A group of parent advocates released a four-pronged platform during a virtual event May 18 to advance educational equity in Indianapolis.
The platform, developed by the inaugural cohort of EmpowerED Families fellows, came from six months of talking to Black and Latino parents of Indianapolis students and others in the community to learn what their needs and concerns are.
EmpowerED Families, which has been incubated through education nonprofit The Mind Trust, will spend the next three years working in the areas local families identified as priorities.
One of the fellows, Alexandra Hall, said one of the main things she learned from talking to parents is the education system as a whole can be daunting. There’s a lot to learn, and feeling ignorant can also mean feeling disconnected.
“If you don’t know how to navigate it, the system is not likely to work for you,” said Hall, who works in early childhood education.
The fellows’ platform falls into four buckets: funding, racial equity, life skills coaching and education coaching.
What fellows heard about school funding: There is a concern about a lack of funding for schools that primarily serve Black and Latino students, which could contribute to a knowledge and achievement gap.
What EmpowerED Families will do: The organization will work with legislators, funders and schools to make sure Black and Latino students are prioritized when it comes to allocating resources.
What fellows heard about racial equity: Schools should be better equipped to celebrate the “culture and genius” of Black and Latino students.
What EmpowerED Families will do: The organization will work with schools to improve racial equity and make sure teachers are culturally competent.
What fellows heard about life skills coaching: There should be more opportunities for families to learn life skills such as financial management.
What EmpowerED Families will do: The organization will host monthly sessions to cover topics such as how to search for a job, budgeting and living a healthy lifestyle.
What fellows heard about education and community coaching: Families don’t know what resources are available to them and get confused when trying to figure it out.
What EmpowerED Families will do: The organization will help connect families to resources, and an outreach coordinator will help families understand the school system.
EmpowerED Families will become independent of The Mind Trust and launch as its own organization this summer.
Executive Director Ontay Johnson said the organization will add staff and continue talking to parents to figure out what issues in education should be a priority.
EmpowerED Families will also work with school boards, as well as local and state lawmakers on policy change, he said.
Over the next three years, the organization’s goals include reaching 5,000 people, helping 500 families resolve an issue or learn a new skill, and doing at least 10 campaigns on specific issues.
One of the fellows, Clare Pope, said it would be nice to have more advocates who could be assigned to certain schools or districts so the organization can connect them to families. Other fellows see a similar future, where parent advocates don’t just learn from the community but do more to help where needed.
The bottom line, as the name implies, is empowering parents, grandparents, anyone with a stake in Indianapolis education.
“We want parents and families to know they have power within them to make a difference,” Johnson said.
‘You don’t just turn that off at the end of the day’
Parent advocates had 215 meetings with families over the last six months, a pace of a little more than one every day. That was all during a pandemic, too, making the project even more challenging.
One of the advocates, Wendy Williams, said she had to learn how to erase preconceived ideas of the challenges parents face and how they deal with those challenges.
“I was able to understand that everybody loves their child, but everybody’s different,” she said. “Every household has different needs.”
Pope said she sees education differently now and sometimes goes to sleep thinking of issues that still need addressed. There’s the big stuff — families need wraparound supports, schools need more resources — but also the smaller stuff such as early start times for students.
“You don’t just turn that off at the end of the day,” said Pope, who added finding ways to help families has made it worthwhile.
Delma Suber said the last six months made her realize she’s tired of just talking about problems and wants real action. It’s also easy to ignore a problem that doesn’t directly affect you, she said.
“If I got my bills paid, if I live in a decent house, if my belly is full, why should I care about somebody else? I feel like part of our humanity has gotten that way,” she said, “and I feel like we can no longer operate in that space.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.