CEDAR RAPIDS — Transportation, time and communication are three major obstacles to parent and community involvement in Cedar Rapids schools, participants at a community forum said Sunday.
The forum, “Not Without Me! — Interfacing with the Education Process,” was held at the African American Museum of Iowa and co-sponsored by the Cedar Rapids NAACP.
The forum was the first of many like it scheduled through the fall, with the aim of addressing ways to close the achievement gap for children of color, specifically African-American children, in Cedar Rapids schools.
Humbles shared data from the school district that show that African-American students are the only demographic with less than 50 percent proficiency in both 2013 and 2018 in all three categories the district compared — reading, math and science.
The solutions to addressing the issue are complex, Cedar Rapids school district board President Nancy Humbles said, but she thinks one way to start is by getting more adults engaged in the education system.
“We know we have work to do,” Humbles told the room. “We are going to come up with solutions today.”
She advocated recruiting community members to volunteer in classrooms and with school clubs such as the African American Achievement Program, Unsnappin’, a program for young men, and Rites of Passage.
Audience members were broken into groups by tables and asked to discuss what obstacles exist to parent and community engagement in Cedar Rapids schools, then to come up with potential solutions, and finally to make personal commitments to engage with the schools and students.
The list of obstacles included time — either parents not having time to spare or events such as PTA meetings, conferences and volunteer opportunities being held when parents are working — as well transportation and communication.
Solutions suggested for the time issue included working with employers to provide a certain number of hours a month for volunteering or attending school-related functions.
Transportation issues could be addressed by organizing carpools, shuttle or free bus rides to school-related activities. Solving communication challenges might involve using technology such as texting and engaging with community organizations such as churches and neighborhood associations to help get the word out about volunteer opportunities, forum participants said.
Other challenges identified included things such as generational mistrust in the education system, based on poor past experiences. A few solutions identified for that included recruiting more teachers of color and ongoing implicit bias and cultural competency training for educators.
Additional public forums will be held every fourth Sunday through October, with the next one scheduled for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. March 24, at the African American Museum of Iowa, 55 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.
“Our goal is to be solutions focused and get more and more of the community involved,” said Okpara Rice, CEO of Tanager Place, who helped lead the meeting. “There are a lot of good people in this community, we just need to bring them together.”
Sunday’s forum will be used to shape the topic and direction of the March meeting, Humbles said.
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“I hope our community becomes engaged in working with students in this district,” she said. “This is about asking, ‘How do we as community members not complain but step up and step in to become part of the solution for the achievement gap or any other problems.”
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