Engaging the Urban Child: Queens Community PTSA has turned up the excitement, and turn out parents
It’s called the Queens Community PTSA. And as one of the few PTAs in New York City, it has become a model of how to effectively engage parents in urban communities. Camille Doherty has led the PTSA, which was chartered in 2009. She says that while all parents have an interest in taking an active role in their child’s education, tapping into that interest with fun and informative programs and activities has been the key to increasing membership and involvement. Doherty talked to One Voice about the ways the Queens Community PTSA has engaged the urban child.
One Voice: The Queens Community PTSA is not school based, but represents dozens of schools throughout Queens. Why has it been so successful?
Camille Doherty: Queens has been a very difficult nut to crack in terms of getting parental involvement…With the Queens Community PTSA, a lot of it has been the ability to have a grounded group outside of the schools where parents share a common value system…The PTA is a natural fit because you have a community of parents, and a network of parents, and a history of parents that actually tie into the struggle of wanting to do better by their kids regardless of the economic background or your location.
One Voice: What are events have had the most parent involvement?
Camille Doherty: We had our “Dream to Read” program, which will take place again this year in January, Martin Luther King’s Jr. birthday weekend. And we’ve had our back-to-school forums. We’ve sponsored a garden through the help of New York City, the Children’s Community Garden. We have a tutoring program, which is open to the community. Our Educational Ministry is a team of educators that want to make sure the parents are connected. We do parent training on how to advocate for your children and when to recognize that you should advocate for your child…We’ve picked up a strong following from a lot of our dance schools…We’ve done it with the sisterhood and the brotherhood where we have young parents in smaller sessions, and we sneak in discussions on education and what’s going on in the school and who’s doing what. But it’s done in a non-threatening type of atmosphere.
One Voice: You have received a lot of attention from your Bhati Bowl. How did that come about?
Camille Doherty: The Bhati Bowl is where our core base of membership came from. The parents loved it, and came back every week. That’s what really jumpstarted our PTA. Bhati is the Swahili word for “God’s gift.” It was a five-month program where the children learned traditional dancing like the Cha-Cha and the Merengue. We had about 26 kids, 21 families. They had fun. They had to dance with each other, boys and girls. Then, the parents had to do dance classes…it was really cute. And we had parental workshops that focused on our National PTA standards with Common Core, advocating for your children. But we also talked about our situations with the police department. So, for two hours, one Thursday night and one Friday night, the adults were in one room learning how to advocate for the children, and the kids were in one room, getting restaurant manners, learning how to use a knife and fork, learning how to tie a tie, learning how to walk with a young lady…things they don’t learn in school.
Making the Grade in Brooklyn: Parent Advocates Needed
The low percentage of students passing the latest state test in Brooklyn serves as an indication of the need for parent advocates:
Grade 3 ELA – 27.6
Grade 3 Math – 33.5
Grade 4 ELA – 27.5
Grade 4 Math – 35.6
Grade 5 ELA – 27.5
Grade 5 Math – 29.4
Grade 6 ELA – 23
Grade 6 Math – 29.1
Grade 7 ELA – 25.8
Grade 7 Math – 25
Grade 8 ELA – 25.1
Grade 8 Math – 26.7