At the national summit on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline® Crisis convened by the Children's Defense Fund at Howard University in September, we had the opportunity to hear from a number of national experts about solutions that are working to keep at-risk children off the track to prison and on the path to success.
One of those experts was David Valladolid, president and CEO of the California-based Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE). PIQE encourages and trains low-income parents to take an active role in their children's education starting as early as preschool so their children can reach their fullest academic potential, including going on to college. This year PIQE celebrated its 20th anniversary after serving nearly 400,000 families, and Mr. Valladolid shared some of the lessons learned from PIQE's success.
He told us that when PIQE's founders first went to the lowest-performing elementary school in the San Diego Unified School District and asked if they could meet with parents to talk about their social conditions and their children's low academic achievement, the principal predicted—correctly—that only the same eight or nine parents who always came to school events would turn out. But once those parents understood that PIQE was serious about listening to their suggestions and working with them on finding solutions, they encouraged other parents in the community to join them.
Over the next nine weeks, nearly 100 parents came to PIQE meetings, and by the end of that session, the parents were begging the founders to take what they'd done there to other schools. Mr. Valladolid said the lesson learned was that parents were absolutely motivated, but it was important to make sure their voices drove the conversation. Instead of delivering ready-made solutions to parents, PIQE went into communities and asked for parents' input on what was needed and what strategies they thought would work for them.
PIQE now provides a free nine-week Parent Involvement Education Program designed to train parents to become an integral part of their children's education. The classes are offered in the parents' primary language so they can feel comfortable participating with the other parents in the class. The program helps parents understand how the school system functions and how to develop an active interaction with school staff. Parents are encouraged to communicate with teachers and counselors to monitor the progress of their children in the classroom as well as to become aware of academic expectations and enrichment programs and to ensure that their children are being prepared for postsecondary education. Parents also receive training on how to establish and maintain a supportive home learning environment, including creating daily homework routines and limiting television viewing. PIQE initially worked mainly with Latino families and conducted meetings and outreach in Spanish. As their work has expanded, their cultural connections have as well, and PIQE's courses have now been taught in over a dozen languages.
As Mr. Valladolid said, "We tell the parents that children will see the world through your eyes. 'You must create the vision. You must create the expectation of what you want your children to be.' What keeps us going, what drives us, is that [after each course] we get to hear of the transformation of parents—[like] a farm worker in San Jose who stands before his class and says, 'I learned through PIQE that I'm the architect of my children's future, and I will decide which bus they get on—the bus to work in the fields or the bus to a university. And I declare tonight, my children will be on a bus to a university….'"
Cesar Chavez was one of Mr. Valladolid's mentors, and he once told him, "David, you can live a life of destruction, or you can live a live a life of construction. You have to make that choice." PIQE's lessons about working effectively with parents and partnering with them to make choices for building their children's futures can serve as models for other programs. I am so grateful for their important work.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children's Defense Fund