Meetings work toward more inclusive county schools

Officials offer sessions to encourage, help minority parents, students to get involved

October 15, 2006|By Nora Koch | Nora Koch,Special to The Sun

Three months ago, Narubeth Kaewphakdee brought his 10-year-old son to Mount Airy to find a better education than what the child would get in their native Thailand.

"The style of teaching is not the same," said Kaewphakdee, whose son, Boat, now attends fifth grade at Mount Airy Elementary School. "In Thailand, the student only has to memorize what the teacher has to teach. In America, they teach the student to have an opinion and to think."

Last Wednesday, the same parental concern that brought Kaewphakdee to America took him to White Rock United Methodist Church in Sykesville for a school forum aimed at helping children like Boat achieve.

This fall, the Carroll County Public Schools' Department of Minority Achievement held four such sessions, also in Westminster, North Carroll, and Taneytown, hoping to reach out to families who might feel disenfranchised in a system that is 93 percent white.

Purposefully staged in community locations like the historically black White Rock church, the two-hour forums attracted 21 families - African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and white - from across the county, said Pat Levroney, the school system's minority achievement liaison.

School officials gave informal presentations to inform parents of academic and social resources for their children and ways they could stay involved in their education.

Counselors and others also provided school phone lists and delved into resources for families who don't speak or read English. Given the success of the first set of forums, Levroney expects to hold more in the spring.

In recent years, the school system's minority population has grown to include many cultures and languages. Schools must make a concerted effort to reach out to these groups, Levroney said.

"All of what makes America a salad bowl is coming to Carroll County," Levroney said, noting growing Muslim and Jewish populations and an expanding African-American community. "It's important that we let everyone know: `We see you; we know you're here, and we want you to make a difference.'"

For some families, a little extra effort is necessary to get parents involved in the schools, said Hilda Muriel, a Spanish translator with the school system who came to the United States from Puerto Rico.

Carroll County is home to many families where the parents don't speak or read English, which can lead to a feeling of intimidation about taking action on behalf of their children in school, she said.

"They are afraid of the unknown," Muriel said. "They can't help their students with homework because they don't read English, and they don't know how to communicate with the school. They don't know all the benefits and the help the school can give them."

Jean Lewis, who works for the Carroll County branch of the NAACP, believes the first round of these forums, called "Helping All Families," has been a success.

She is also a member of the schools' committee that suggested these forums after talking to parents and families across the county.

She said some parents have stated that they feel intimated and uncomfortable going into the schools.

"The educators and administrators don't look like them," she said. "They see none of us. We're here tonight because we want parents to feel there's an advocate in their corner."

Lewis said she hopes the school system will take other steps to be a more inclusive community, such as hiring and retaining more minorities in teaching and administrative jobs at schools.

Kaewphakdee said the forums were a useful tool that gave him information about how he can contact the school if he ever has any concerns about his son's education.

"I try, maybe, to help him, in every way I can," Kaewphakdee said. "It is important he does well."

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