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America is in the midst of an education crisis. Sadly, this deeply fractured education system is hurting students of color the most. Throughout our series, Broken System, we will highlight some of the most pressing issues impacting Black students today.

All students need an advocate, especially students of color. If we’ve done nothing else this week, we’ve established that America’s education system does not always offer a leveled playing field to Black and Hispanic students. While these facts and statistics can be disheartening, take solace in knowing that the greatest asset that your child has to navigate this lopsided education system is you. As a parent, you are in the best position to be your child’s greatest advocate and the best way to infiltrate a corrupt system is to work from within.

Parental involvement is the number one predictor of student success. According to Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs, the extent to which families encourage learning at home and actively involve themselves in the education of their children can override the effects of socioeconomic status. reports that 50 different studies across various states in the U.S. found a distinct connection between parental engagement and academic achievement and the impact begins early. Research has shown that parental involvement beginning during the elementary school year helps to establish strong academic foundations in students.

Society would lead you to believe that Black parents are not involved in their children’s education but this is actually false. While some schools that primarily serve minority students report low parental engagement, this is not the case for every school or even most schools. For example, my first parent-teacher conference night, I met approximately nine parents out of the 90 students that I taught that school year. However, while working in a different predominately Black community, we had such high turnouts that it was not uncommon to see hallways flooded with parents or to overhear my principal jokingly escorting families out of the door at the end of conference night because parents didn’t want the conversations to end. According to Child Trends, 87 percent of Black parents attended general school meetings in 2016. While these are great numbers, positioning yourself as an advocate for your child requires more than quarterly conferences.

Volunteer or join school-based committees

According to the aforementioned study, only 34 percent of Black students had a parent who volunteered for school-related initiatives during the 2016 school year. Volunteering time, joining school-based committees, and getting familiar with those in a child’s school is one of the easiest ways that parents can begin to effect change in a school community.

Form relationships with teachers

In many cases, children spend more time at school than they do at home. A parent seeking to position themselves as an effective advocate should definitely begin forming relationships with the people who are spending that time with their children: teachers. Most teachers desire to partner with parents. Additionally, having a relationship with someone makes them much more open to suggestions and it makes having difficult conversations a little easier to have.

Get to know school leadership

In addition to forging relationships with teachers, getting familiar with the leaders of the school is also crucial to becoming an effective advocate for your child. School leadership includes principals, deans, counselors and operations managers.

Get familiar with the school board

Who holds positions on your child’s school board? When are the meetings held? Are they open meetings? Who should you speak with if you disagree with a decision that has been made at the school level?

Stay up to date with education news in your state

Laws and policies related to public education at the state level are constantly changing. Chalkbeat is a great education news site that will help to keep you in the loop about political decisions being made regarding your children.

Develop a general understanding of what’s expected of your child

It’s beneficial to collect all of the syllabi distributed by your child’s teachers at the start of the school year and keep them in your back pocket for reference. This will keep you informed regarding class policies, procedures, major assignments, and grading breakdowns. Should you need to advocate on behalf of your child later on in the school year, you’ll be able to refer back to the syllabi. Additionally, a student conduct manual or handbook is also a great thing to have in your possession.

Be prepared to speak up if something doesn’t feel or sound right

The hardest part of being an advocate for your child can be speaking up when something doesn’t sit well with you. Often times, parents feel intimidated and are led to believe that they have to tolerate whatever is being dished out. This could not be further from the truth. Furthermore, if you don’t speak up for your child, it’s unlikely that anyone else will.

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