The Portland Parent Union, a new MRG Foundation grantee, is empowering parents to be advocates in the education of their children and in their school communities.They work with parents of mostly poor students and students of color on how to advocate with the school district so that these students can succeed in school. In less than a year, this all-volunteer organization has already worked with about 20 families in the Portland Public Schools system.
“We’re developing parents as leaders and mentors,” explains Sheila Warren, the group’s founder and current director. “We just started last April, but people are discovering what we can do as parents when we come together.”
The Parent Union doesn’t only work with individual families; they also look for changes that will impact local schools in the long term so that they better serve all students. After assisting a parent with specific situation, they look at what policies need to change, whether it’s at the school level, or at the school district level. For example, recently they approached the school district staff about making changes to the policy for when a child is injured during the day.
But creating change isn’t just about pointing fingers. It can also mean supporting the people who you want to change when they are facing a challenge.
Even as the Parent Union presses teachers to change how they respond to poor students and students of color, they recognize that teachers need support if they’re going to provide a positive experience for youth.
As the teachers union was embroiled in contract negotiations this winter, Portland Parent Union reached out to them to offer support. They organized a meeting for parents and teachers to talk together about how parents could support teachers as they negotiated a contract while budget cuts dug deep into school funding.
“We need to see how we can work together, to eliminate the ‘them’ and ‘us,’” explains Sheila. “We have teachers on our board, and we want a strong support system for teachers in our schools.”
The Portland Parent Union will celebrate their first anniversary this spring. To learn more, visit their website: www.portlandparentunion.com
Photo: Sheila Warren, Portland Parent Union founder and current director