Speakers at COD event call for more parental involvement in education
By Hank Beckman For The Sun September 29, 2012 7:54PM
Dr. Lourdes Ferrer (right) interprets to a mostly Spanish speaking crowd, the welcome speech of Dr. Darlene Ruscitti, Regional Superintendent of DuPage County. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:50AM
Parents hold the key to whether their children succeed or fail in school.
That was the message of Stephen Garlington to a big crowd during the African American and Latino Parent Summit at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn Saturday.
Garlington, the Equity and Excellence consultant for the DuPage Regional Office of Education, said parents need to get involved early and stay involved in their children’s schooling to make success a possibility. This is especially true for minority students, he said, who often feel that schools are culturally or racially biased.
The event at COD focused on the “academic achievement gap” between African American and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts.
“There’s something wrong with this picture,” Garlington said of the difference in academic performance in 2011 in Illinois.
In reading, he said, African American and Hispanic students were at proficiency rates of 25 and 33 percent, respectively, while their white and Asian counterparts were at 64 and 66 percent. In math, a similar scenario: African Americans and Hispanics at 20 and 35 percent, but whites and Asians at 65 and 78 percent.
Garlington said his research has led him to the conclusion that the biggest single factor in any student’s success is a high level of parental involvement and parents having high expectations for their children.
“The earlier it begins, the more powerful the effect,” he said.
He used his own life story as an example of the power of parental involvement. Garlington’s parents moved from their Harlem neighborhood in New York City to suburban Westchester County for the purpose of providing a better education for their children.
He eventually earned an advanced degree in social work from the University of Maryland, but he said he realizes that it was his parents’ involvement in his education that laid the foundation for his success in life.
Garlington spoke of how there were many African American males attending the same suburban school with him, but very few in college preparatory classes.
“They were on a different track,” he said, noting that the difference in his experience and that of his male friends was the involvement of his parents.
Indeed, Garlington said that he understands now that even moving to the suburbs for better schools was a key indication of his parents’ support.
“That was parental involvement,” he said.
Garlington has reinforced his feelings with the opinions of students themselves. He summarized his findings in “Voices: African American and Hispanic Student Perceptions Regarding the Achievement Gap,” the book he co-wrote with Maria Lourdes Ferrer that essentially let DuPage County’s African American and Hispanic students tell their own stories and share their perceptions about what holds them back from achieving at higher levels.
Many say they live in a home environment that doesn’t value education. They also feeli hat as minorities they don’t belong to the school culture.
During the event Saturday at COD, Ferrer delivered a message similar to the one Garlington was espousing, except she did hers in Spanish to a room full of Hispanic parents and students.
“Schools can’t do it alone,” she said of the need for strong parental involvement.
But Ferrer had a message with a national scope for Hispanic students. She pointed to the rapid growth of the Hispanic population, and the importance to the entire country that Hispanic children get a good education.
“It’s a wake-up call to the Hispanic community,” she said, adding that if the community fails, “we might not take America to greatness…”
Naperville School District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges took questions from the audience as part of a panel discussion at the event.
“We’re here to continue to build awareness for our community that we’re concerned for all our students’ achievement,” he said.
In an answer to a parent about what District 203 planned in the way of removing barriers to achievement, Bridges spoke of greater classroom opportunities.
“We have to do a better job in school of providing access to high-level courses,” he said.
Jennifer Trannon is the parent of African American children in District 203.
“I think this was awesome,” she said of the summit.
She was especially interested in the focus on the academic achievement gap.
Judging from the attendance — and the occasional applause that broke out for the speakers — the college’s inaugural summit was a success.
“We’ve exceeded all expectations,” COD Vice President of Enrollment Earl Dowling said. “Not only with registrations but with expectations.”
Dowling said there were about 500 parents registered for the event and estimated that the final attendance was closer to 750.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for parents to come together to listen, learn and share ideas,” Dowling said.