Waco Independent School District leaders this week successfully began the first of what I fervently hope are many constructive meetings aimed at forging ties between economically struggling neighborhoods and the academically failing schools within them. Unfortunately, this takes place in the wake of excitable and overly reactionary public addresses, columns and letters to the editor about what has not exactly been a secret in Waco: parental disengagement from our public schools.
I am so disappointed as I write this — not because of what anyone has said in any recent published article or letter but because I have been interested for many years in starting the Parents Against Crime Coalition (PACC) to get parents, Waco schools and the community engaged in bolstering parental involvement. Unfortunately, I put the idea on hold in 2000, mainly because Waco was about to receive a new grant to start a parental involvement program in our schools.
Alas, years later it was evident things had not progressed much. And that’s tragic. Research suggests parental engagement can contribute not only to success in our schools but also a reduction in juvenile delinquency. A 2002 Southwest Educational Development Laboratory report found that, regardless of family income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to:
• Earn higher grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs.
• Be promoted, pass their classes and earn credits.
• Attend school regularly.
• Have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school.
• Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.
When I began to research our schools in a serious way for the first time in 1999, I discovered minorities were disproportionately represented in alternative schools in Waco ISD. Then I learned the district had a majority minority school population with a disproportionate representation of minority administrators, staff and teachers. In 1997 student demographics for WISD were as follows:
• Total population: 16,537
• Whites: 22 percent
• African Americans: 40.6 percent
• Hispanics: 36.3 percent
• Other: 1.1 percent
The 2012 student demographics were as follows:
• Total population: 15,329
• Whites: 10 percent
• African Americans: 30.2 percent
• Hispanic: 57 percent
• Other: 2.3 percent
After realizing Waco schools had a majority minority population, I began to inquire about the high number of minority students in alternative schools. My friend, the late Billy Barrett, happened to be on the Waco school board at the time. He didn’t balk: “Most of them deserve to be there!”
I adamantly disagreed with Billy and let him know that I didn’t think children could get a quality education in alternative schools. He told me these children didn’t want an education and that some of their parents couldn’t even control them.
That debate proved one of the most intense we ever had — and those who remember Billy know how he was when he felt he was right. It was lawyer versus social worker with neither of us giving an inch. We finally decided to agree to disagree.
As I did more research on alternative schools and the effects of such placements on juvenile delinquency and graduation rates, the one thing I could not get out of my mind was what Billy said about parents needing to take responsibility for their children’s behavior. I looked at what other communities were doing and found a variety of approaches similar to what was happening with the Texas zip-code programs including the 76707 Community Youth Development Program that I chaired at the time.
I also learned that students placed in alternative schools were more likely to drop out and end up in the juvenile correctional system and/or prison than other students. So in the final analysis, both Billy and I were correct. I finally came to the conclusion that a mentoring program for parents was the missing ingredient for urban-styled schools that had problems with high referrals to alternative schools or in-school suspension.
The fact that I shelved plans for such a program back in 2000 drives me to work all the harder today to successfully implement programs that will ensure strong parental involvement, thereby ensuring that parents and families take a more proactive role in crime prevention, their children’s education and the betterment of our communities.
Today PACC is intent on offering mentoring for parents to enhance their parenting skills. They become members of PACC Village where they will receive life-skills coaching. PACC has other programs which serve the children of the parents including tutoring. Another program which PACC is ready to implement in collaboration with Waco-McLennan County Public Library is PACC Reads Library Club. We’re having a meeting at 4:15 p.m. today at Central Library, 1717 Austin Ave.
Right now PACC’s focus is on helping students prepare for the STARR test. PACC is collaborating with Bledsoe-Miller/Dewey Recreation Center to set up tutoring for those students which PACC serves.
If you are interested in learning more about PACC, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And in any case, let’s engage now for the sake of our kids.
Bettie V. Beard, of Waco, is a freelance writer with a background in social work and gerontology. She has a variety of interests including politics, education and social issues.