The East Chicago (IN) Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) Community PTA packs a mean punch when it comes to the fight on illiteracy and miseducation among the children and parents in the area. The PTA’s grassroots efforts to target predominately Latino and African-American parents have been widely praised.
Reverend Cheryl Rivera, executive director and lead organizer for the PTA unit, shared with One Voice exactly how the ECHO Project has engaged, empowered and equipped parents and the community with training and leadership development skills to impact student learning and maximize their achievement in public education.
ECHO’s strategy is to create change in the parents’ and community’s mind set and attitudes, address barriers to engagement and facilitate paradigm to reach an understanding that everyone is connected, valuable and worthy of a good education. ECHO provides an accelerated reading program for at-risk children and families that caters mostly to third and fourth grade and high school students. Rivera credits much of the success of the unit to PTA advisor, Dee Jones, who also serves on the state board of Indiana.
Jones provides information, support and training to the ECHO unit. Jones is particularly proud of their work building a team where professional organizers, trained community leaders and collaboration partners canvass targeted neighborhoods. Sometimes, it’s going door to door to homes. Other times it’s meeting at community centers, congregations and schools to reach out and build relationships with parents, educators, and other stakeholders.
In the East Chicago area, there has been an issue with lack of leadership in the educational system. The team at ECHO hosts workshops for parents where they are able to address plaguing educational issues and come up with ways to fix them. Bringing together these stakeholders helps to create a united front in the fight for improvement.
Rivera and Jones say that this program is just a precursor to what is still to come. ECHO is working to soon incorporate the Arts in Education-Reflections program so that children have a way to showcase their artistic talents. As they continue to set a beaming example of what it is that PTA units are doing nationwide, they are making sure people know that urban children in this area are not to be written off as statistics.