By Mitzi Perez
The 10th annual West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Parents as Partners and Leaders Conference was held at Lovonya DeJean Middle School on Saturday, April 16.
Keynote speaker Barbara Logan Smith, executive director of Teach for America-Mississippi, discussed the importance of family involvement to support the elements of a quality life for students: healthy minds and bodies, strong and supportive relationships, financial stability, freedom to define their path and leave a positive legacy.
Marin Trujillo, Elizabeth Carmody, and the rest of the WCCUSD Community Engagement Department put together a safe environment where parents could express their concerns for their children.
About 200 parents attended the conference, along with two school board members, Liz Block and Valerie Cuevas, and several presenters and community members who led breakout sessions. The sessions were meant to spark conversations around a variety of topics including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), bilingualism and special education.
Among the more challenging topics at this year’s conference were sessions on “Keeping Our Children Safe from Drugs and Gangs” and “Restorative Practices – a Different Approach to Discipline.”
Antwon Clorid, chief operations officer of the community-based nonprofit Men and Women of Purpose, expressed concerns that few husbands and fathers were in attendance.
“Parents are the first teachers,” said Clorid, who led a breakout session on parent communication with their kids. “Being available to the kids is crucial, especially where they won’t be judged.” He stressed that once students know that they have a voice, they have power.
Two mothers and teachers’ aids, Raija Rickansrud and Naungyal Wabtsang, said the break-out discussions on bilingual families and special education were eye-opening and addressed crucial questions such as how to make children better readers.
Wabtsang, a second-time attendee of the conference, added that she would like to see more parent involvement in the breakout sessions by having speakers and parents engage more with one another.
“It would be great if parents and teachers could be on the same page about their children’s development,” she said.