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Powerful Things Happen When Parents Organize

By Daiana Lambrecht – Director, Parent Organizing and Leadership at Rocketship Public Schools

My job is pretty unconventional. I spend my days harnessing the power of parents to ensure they have a voice at decision-making tables, and I love it.

I got into this work because of my own parents. I was born and raised in Argentina and when I was 11 years-old we immigrated to the U.S. and moved to Venice, Florida – the oldest, whitest town you could imagine. The transition was very difficult. My teachers didn’t know how to help me because I didn’t speak English and I was undocumented. I often felt alone and helpless. My parents tried their best to fight for my education but often felt discriminated against and unheard.

The hurdles my family had to navigate led me to pursue a career in education but my experience in the classroom brought me to organizing parents at Rocketship Public Schools. Teaching at a failing traditional school taught me about the importance of working with my students’ first teachers – their parents. At first, I engaged families on their children’s academics.  But I soon found myself helping families learn how to navigate and change a system that is not designed to benefit immigrant families, low-income families, or families of color. Eventually, I left the classroom to become a community organizer for Rocketship.

Here, I live out my calling every day. We are one of the only charter networks in the whole country that is actually investing time and resources to build the capacity of our community beyond the classroom. We believe in the power of parents as our students’ educators and advocates.

Through our Parent Leadership team, we build relationships with families, identify leaders, and build Parent Organizing Committees (POCs) who define a campaign around educational equity according to their school community needs. Education Organizers (EO) at Rocketship spend their time coaching parents one-on-one, leading trainings on community organizing and moving POCs to hold local and, sometimes, state leaders accountable through research meetings and large public actions that aim to spark change. This work is not easy and it takes time. Many of our parents have not engaged with politicians before. Many haven’t led public meetings or even taken time to connect one-on-one with other parents in their school. But through our work, we coach and develop parents to have the skills and mindset they need to organize and hear the power of their voice!

Over the last year, Parent Leadership has expanded to include five Education Organizers across the South Bay, East Bay, D.C. and Texas. The parent communities and politics are very different in each region but through this work we are unleashing the power of our parents to advance educational equity, excellence, and options for their community.

Washington, DC Parents Organize Around Mental Health

So, what does this work look like?  Well, at Rocketship Legacy Prep in DC, we organized a campaign by following a principle “stay with the experience of your people.” Khadijah, our DC education organizer, began doing 1:1’s with parents and is now in the middle of a listening campaign to understand how mental health issues, particularly trauma, are impacting the community. Families in DC often lack access or resources to receive mental health care. For example, Alicia, a parent of a first-grader, was in an accident and is now suffering from brain damage. Alicia’s child, previously quiet and studious, now exhibits disruptive behavior and irritability. Alicia is also facing eviction from her home and so she has not been bringing her children to school.

Some may say Alicia is a disengaged parent, but there are many stories like her in DC of families experiencing immense trauma and stress. Through organizing via listening circles, parents are overcoming stigma around mental health care and talking about what they need. Parent leaders are finding community and urgency to take action by listening to many families at Legacy Prep and learning how lack mental health wellness contributes to the achievement gap.

Next month, families at the Parent Organizing Committee will begin to engage decision-makers and entities in DC who are creating policy, distributing resources and providing mental health services to learn about why Ward 7 and 8 are still struggling to receive support. We hope to hone in on the issue in the future and organize a public action. We are applying the same principles and strategies of parent organizing that we’ve developed through years of charter petitions and renewals, and are now stretching our wings to impact our communities in powerful new ways. We are investing in our families beyond their pathway in Rocketship and are opening spaces to make grassroots decisions about community change by families, for families.

Through this work, I am reminded every day of my own parents. I am inspired to be a part of creating a different way to engage parents and harness their own power through this work.

3 Ways You Can Activate Your Parent Power

When it comes to parent power, every person makes an impact. Here are a few ways you can join the movement to ensure all children, regardless of their zip code, have the quality education and vibrant learning environments they deserve:

  1. Connect with the Education Organizer in your region
    Meet with your organizer to learn about the local work and opportunities for engagement
  2. Join the Parent Leadership Committee at your own school
    Committed parents meet at least monthly to strategize, act together and learn organizing skills to carry the work forward
  3. Connect with your local education organizer below.
    Connect with the parent leadership team

Published on March 7, 2020