Feb. 20, 2007 — A new grassroots initiative to get more parents involved in their children's education was the focus during a Tuesday morning press conference at Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall.
"If there is anything that is critical to a childs success, it is parental involvement, but we would like to see that in actions, not just words," Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said.
The group launching the new initiative is the U.S. Virgin Islands Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students Association (USVIPTSA). For Tuesday's press conference — which was being held in conjunction with National PTA Advocacy Week — the association assembled a five-person panel to address the myriad problems, and possible solutions, in the territory's education system.
Panelists included Lisa Hassell-Forde, acting superintendent of St. Thomas-St John Schools; Board of Education Chair Debra Watlington; USVIPTSA President Margarita Greenidge-Benjamin, V.I. State Teacher of the Year Valrica Bryson and Charlotte Amalie High School senior Nicole Francis.
While all those who spoke mentioned the familiar litany of systemic underachievement, lack of funding and parental nonparticipation, Francis spoke from the students perspective. Francis, whose mother was one of the few parents to attend the sparsely attended press conference, zeroed in on the needs of special education students, those with discipline and motivational problems, and students, like herself, who are trying to get the most from their education.
Some of the resources given to us to work with are dilapidated and in need of repair or replacement. We need textbooks that are not outdated," Francis said. "Some of our departments have received new textbooks, but what does it say about our education system if the textbooks promised before the beginning of the school year are received after the first semester ends?
Francis also spoke about the poor state of certain classrooms, the need for better security, the language barriers with foreign teachers and the absence of male role models throughout the system. Men are needed in our schools –men who care and are not afraid to get close to the students in order to gain our trust, to get us to do the best we can, she said.
Malone, whose father was a PTA president on both the elementary and high school levels, had high praise for Francis. The truth often comes out of the mouths of babes, he said.
Representing Gov. John deJongh Jr., Hassell-Forde pledged all available resources to involve more parents so as to make meaningful and positive changes and alter the direction of our student body. When parents partner with schools, students achieve, she said.
Hassell-Forde also stressed the need for parents to show up to PTA meetings. We need not just three or four parents, but roomfuls of people, so that it's standing room only.
Watlington said that in order to continue economic vitality, development and community sustainability, there is a crying need for parents to get involved.
She cited the 2006 Kids Count report that stated that over a third of V.I. children live in poverty. There is much work to be done, and we hope that this week will serve as a catalyst for all of us in this community to rededicate ourselves to the rearing and growth of our children. Low wages, poor health care, poor nutrition, and drug, alcohol and sexual abuse are just some of the contributing factors. Let this week bring an end to apathy and complacency, Watlington said.
Bryson put it succinctly, A nonparticipating parent sends a powerful message that education is not worth my time.
She said that schools earnestly want parental participation and offer various methods throughout the summer and school year to do so, including seminars and individual meetings. She suggested that parents sit in on Finance Committees, School Improvement teams, and textbook adoption teams. Once students see the bond between family and school, they strive to excel for both partners, she said.
Underscoring National PTA Advocacy Week, Greenidge-Benjamin told of the 100-year history of the PTA and its accomplishments, including kindergarten classes, child labor laws, hot lunch programs, juvenile justice systems and mandatory immunization.
PTA blends individual voices into a powerful chorus of voices for children. Advocacy is a community effort, she said.
Also in attendance at Tuesday's conference were Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis Patrick Hill and James Weber III.
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