Empowering Parents to Strengthen School Communities

By Marco Petruzzi, Parent and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools National

Last winter, the community around Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo Charter High School in Boyle Heights saw a troubling trend: an increase in gang activity. Parent leaders reacted quickly. In January, they began organizing and working to identify the specific problems they were witnessing – and to determine the best solutions for their neighborhood. On May 15, more than 200 Oscar De La Hoya Ánimo parents held their first public safety meeting, during which they finalized specific, concrete requests of the Los Angeles Police Department, their City Council member, Jose Huizar, and the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. In response, the police increased patrols in the area and gang reduction program leaders increased safe passage routes to and from the campus.

Gang activity fell. The community felt, and is, safer.

Both the process and results of parental involvement cannot be overstated.

As we – and others working with the community-school model –  have learned, campus and community are absolutely intertwined. The neighborhoods we serve face economic, health, housing, and safety issues that have lasting effects on a student’s ability to learn and achieve.  We see this challenge as our responsibility, and we work to eliminate barriers to learning, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Our most important partners to address these issues are parents.

United Parents is dedicated to addressing the barriers to learning that exist outside the classroom by empowering parents to work collaboratively with community leaders and elected officials.  Over the past year, parents at Green Dot Public Schools have come together to make an impact on public safety, mass transit, and job creation issues. Through organized advocacy, parents are exercising their power to strengthen their communities.

The next step in building up parent leaders is happening this Saturday, December 13, when more than 1,500 parents and their allies will be gathering at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the first United Parents Assembly.

It is an opportunity for parents from throughout Green Dot Public Schools in the Los Angeles area to come together to exercise their collective voice and take action to better their communities.  As advocates for improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods, they will be calling on elected officials to join them in ensuring their children can walk to and from school without fear for their safety, that summer jobs programs for youth be expanded, and that officials help match hard working parents with training programs and jobs opportunities so they can support their families.

They will be joined by community leaders including Los Angeles City Council Members Curren Price and Jose Huizar; Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic; LAUSD Board Members Monica Garcia; and Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development General Manager Jan Perry.

We believe parents not only can participate as partners, but be engaged as leaders in improving our communities.  Last year, more than 2,000 individual parents attended at least three workshops facilitated by Green Dot, learning about topics such as how to support their students at home, school-family communication, and college readiness.  Additionally, Green Dot partnered with more than 50 organizations to provide services to support our students and families.  And we launched the Community Organizing Institute, helping families develop the tools necessary to advocate for themselves to improve their communities.

Parents have already made a difference.  Last year, families from Alain LeRoy Locke College Prep – a Green Dot Public School since 2008 – mapped crime “hot spots” that prevented students from making a safe passage to school, and led a community meeting on public safety attended by Councilmember Bernard Parks and the local LAPD division captain, who committed to collaborating with parents on public safety.  And families at Ánimo Jefferson Charter Middle School and Ánimo Ralph Bunche Charter High School successfully lobbied to bring a DASH bus route closer to school so students would have a safe transportation option.

We know there’s no single solution to close opportunity gaps in education and wellness in the communities we serve.  While it requires an unwavering belief in the potential of not only all our students, but our families, we know it will also take a concerted, sustained effort to empower all our partners to become a positive force for change in the lives of our children and the larger school community.


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