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Dilley ISD’s new Outreach Specialist calls on parents to reinforce partnership
Her office may not have windows, but Latosha Bright wants to see everyone and reach them.
Newly hired as Dilley ISD’s family engagement and outreach specialist, Bright has come to South Texas from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she served as the community liaison for Broward County schools.
What she has discovered in Dilley is a calling to fill the gap between the school and the community, enabling parents to better understand their children’s education and to work in close cooperation with teachers in bringing the learning into the home.
The current school year began in mid-August under a cloud of uncertainty in
South Texas, when most families were unsure what lay ahead in education during a time of serious threat by the coronavirus, and many elected not to send their children back to the classroom. More than half of Dilley ISD’s students are presently taking their courses over the computer at home, but prompting them into self-discipline and encouraging them to stay focused on their tuition has been a challenge for the small school district.
In many cases, students staying at home are left alone for much of the day, since one or both parents work, and there is little motivation to log onto the internet classroom and become involved in an educational process in which they cannot feel connected to their peers or maintain a working relationship with their teachers.
In many cases, the computer screen is blank.
“What do I need to do to make this work?” Bright asks herself when faced with an apparently insurmountable resistance from parents or students to take an active role in education. She knows that parents already have enough to worry about, just making ends meet and providing for their households. “Do I need to drive over there with a bullhorn to wake Billy up in the morning? If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it.”
Bright understands that the task ahead is not as simple as sounding the morning Reveille. She knows that in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of the many students who may shortly be lacking in their basic education, she must build bridges of communication between the school and parents.
Bright knows that parents will be reluctant to take on another role, since most had long assumed the school would provide the education. Parents, after all, are not teachers.
Bright has three children, one of them a five-year-old attending Dilley Elementary School. She knows well how much of a challenge it could be for a parent to try taking the place of a teacher.
This is why Bright doesn’t want parents to feel they have to be teachers.
She just wants them to help put the children back into the classroom, so to speak, by logging on and engaging with their actual teachers.
To do this, Bright will employ every resource available to her in a town whose population is registered largely at or below the breadline. Economically disadvantaged families face the greatest challenges in continuing their children’s education online, and Bright recognized immediately that many students needed reassurance their basic needs would be met.
“The school district offers breakfast and lunch for all these children, and they can have dinner provided for them, too,” Bright says. “If it takes delivering a meal to them so that they will be fed and nourished, ready to start another day, so be it.
“And this is where we need to build the bridge,” the outreach specialist says. “This is where we need the parents to take a step in our direction. I say ‘give us your children, and we’ll take it from there.’ I know that parents can’t be teachers and work, all at the same time. They just can’t. But a parent is a child’s first teacher. A parent starts a child off, and now I want the parents to partner with the teachers, so that the teachers can do what they’re supposed to do.”
Researching the community and meeting parents on behalf of the school, Bright has found that some believe they cannot help educate their children because they themselves were inadequately educated.
“Are they scared of it?” Bright asks. “Is that why they are bucking us a bit?
“I’m here to tell parents to take my hand, and we can do this together,” she adds. “There are tests coming up soon, and I know how daunting that is for students and parents, but we can make it work. I want parents to reach out to me, even call me directly, take part in our training sessions and pop-ups, so that we can show them how to encourage their children.
“Parents don’t have to feel they are alone in this,” she says.
Bright compares the early days of the coronavirus shutdown to the present situation and says she has found that many parents did not understand what remote learning would be like for their children.
“At first, when this happened in the spring, students were given work packets, and they just did the assignments and that was it,” Bright says. “When parents were asked if they wanted to keep their children home for the fall semester, I think a lot of them believed it would be like that. But it’s not. There are no more work packets now. There is an interactive learning experience to be had, with a live teacher, online, right on their computer screens.”
The district’s outreach specialist has already tapped many of the outlets available to her for communicating with parents. Online training for parents, in-person seminars and presentations via the library, the local housing authority, and churches are next on the list, and she is willing to adapt her schedule to parents’ needs, if it means she can reach them and encourage them to communicate.
“I believe in going to the families, to motivate the parents,” she says. “We have a support group, Parenting With a Purpose, which is gathering members now, and it’s helping parents to access the many resources available.”
Among the prompts that parents receive from schools is advice on how to establish a workspace for children in the home, a desk or dedicated area, where they can work undisturbed and engage in the Google Classroom or other educational platform, thereby becoming as closely involved in classroom action as is possible without actually being there.
“What I learned here is that we have to be more flexible, because parents work and because there are so many other dynamics at play,” Bright says. “But I want parents to help us bridge the gap. When they have issues, I will make home visits, I will call, or I will visit them at their job. I will do what it takes to bring them on board.
“I have three children, and I’m tired when I get home,” Bright says. “I know how it is, but I have a responsibility.
“Parents demand to know why I want their kids to go online to push a button,” she adds. “They feel I’m putting another task on them. I know they feel pressured, but I’m here to say ‘let me show you how to do it.’ I’m here for my students and I’m here for the parents.
“I believe we need to move from roles to relationships,” Bright says. “If we don’t have a community relationship, parents won’t trust us. But we have to work together to get the kids online. Let’s make the classroom fun again, so that they will enjoy joining us.”
Bright maintains an office in the Mary Harper Middle School but serves students of all ages. She can be reached by appointment through the school or at (830) 965-5469.