The U.S. Department of Education hosted its first ParentCamp International on Monday April 18 with over 200 participants representing 16 different languages. Parents, children, parent leaders, educator connectors, and community leaders came together to discuss equity and excellence in education for immigrant students.
Many of the parents who attended the event were either undocumented or had not been able to afford the citizenship process or didn’t know what to do. Many had never been in a federal building. Their encounter with federal personnel had caused fear and suspension. Some who came felt intimidated and fearful. Out of intimidation and fear some didn’t reveal they needed interpreters. But ED staff helped to remove the barriers that were there. With smiles, hugs, feeling of acceptance, eye-to-eye contact, taking time to greet each person, talking with them and having a welcoming atmosphere, all apprehensions were slowly removed.
The educator and parent connectors confirmed the fear, suspicion and caution within the immigrant community. They felt the atmosphere of acceptance and welcome from the security at the entrance to the facilitators in each session and the staff along the hall ways, welcoming and greeting them, removed threat or fear of their safety.
Acting Deputy Secretary James Cole welcomed PareAntCampers and shared that from the very start of schooling, parents and families must be included as essential partners, alongside educators and schools, in shaping the educational future of their children. He stated the success of immigrant students absolutely requires that parents and families feel welcomed at schools and have equal opportunities to be involved in their children’s education. Alejandro Reyes (OCR) and Lul Tesfai (OCTAE) shared ED resources recently made available to support immigrant families.
Secretary John King made a surprise visit to welcome families to the Department and emphasized ED’s commitment to ensuring equity and opportunity for every child. He assured families that the Department is working diligently to assemble resources and supports to ensure that immigrant students and families feel welcomed by and are successful in our Nation’s schools.
Following the morning’s greetings, ParentCampers participated in a variety of facilitated conversations, a few sessions were conducted in Spanish.
There was apprehension as to whether the sessions would be successful since cultural differences have to be considered in addition to feeling welcomed. But many began to feel free to talk and became involved in discussions in the sessions.
Conversations included: counteracting racism and bullying in schools, supporting families of students with disabilities, early literacy and students’ civil rights, along with several other topics of interest to session attendees.
Several resources for immigrants and undocumented were shared and other agencies joined the event to disseminate information that would be useful in the communities represented. As parents heard of and received the resources many were astonished at what was available to them and their children. When one of the speakers shared about a particular resource, one parent was heard to say, “I didn’t know that.”
During the ShareOut, which happens before the close of the event. It’s an opportunity for parents to share what took place and how they feel about the experience. Parents expressed how happy they were that they were invited to come to the department and have staff listen to them. Some were overwhelmed by the welcome received by ED staff. Some speaking in their own language thanked ED for the opportunity.
At the end of the event many wanted to know if we could keep it going. All have asked when will we have the next one? Many of the parents remained to further network and take photos and receive additional information from ED staff met at the event. One lady before she left said, “you could have had more possibly 400 people attend, if they knew what it was all about. They didn’t know federal people were so hospitable. Many were afraid to come.”
There is great work happening all across the country and the school districts represented demonstrated that by the number of parents that came. ED staff wanted to hear the stories of the parents that came and find out about successful family, school and community engagement practices within the immigrant communities. They were not disappointed.
It is ED’s hope that every parent will have the knowledge, tools and support they need to meet the hopes and dreams they have for their child.
ParentCamp is a model for creating welcoming, inviting environments to all cultures in our schools and for supporting opportunities for families and educators to build relationships that can serve to support positive outcomes for students. The ParentCamp experience is based on the belief that all parents have dreams for their children, want the best for them and have the capacity to support their children’s learning. Families are essential partners in ensuring positive outcomes for students. ParentCamp is one model for creating opportunities for family/school partnerships to support all students.
ED kept its commitment to host and participate in ParentCamps to gather and disseminate tools and resources states, districts, schools and families need to build meaningful partnerships.
Quotes from conversations and emails received after ParentCamp International April 18:
Thank you soooo much for considering and inviting me for the parent camp, I met several other great educators and wonderful parents from other counties in the DMV area, I got to share my ideas and hear others talk about theirs. In the lunch line, I had other ladies, I did not know before that reached out to me and said to me "I like what you said". My highlight was when the new secretary of education John king took time from his busy day and came to our meeting to talk to us and shared his experience as a student. That really reminded me how important is my job. I'll definitely share with my " parents" what he told us. I did not take any pictures at all, I was just in the moment. My assistant principal asked me for pictures, I hope my colleagues can share some.
Thank you again.
Just had another great meeting with Chen for the past 2 hours – she enjoyed Monday’s ParentCamp: International event very, very much and particularly enjoyed connecting with the Chinese parent leader from Howard County who formed the Chinese parent association with the non-profit status and board of directors, etc She’s interested in formalizing the group she started here to something more like that. Thanks, Laura Gardner
Thank you for organizing the ParentCamp. It was a great experience. I'm seriously considering to organize a ParentCamp Asian. I'd like to schedule a meeting with you next week to explore the possibility. Are you available next week Mon, Wed, or Thur. 10:30-11:30am?
I am receiving many e-mails today from the ParentCamp participants. No need to e-mail all, but I thought I should send you one with a photo attached. :) This is from Frederick County, MD
The ParentCamp International meant so much to all of our parents. They are empowered!
Thank you so much for including FCPS in today's ParentCamp. My parents were so honored. Donna A Quatman-Wilder
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in Parent Camp the other day. Could you send out the agenda electronically. I would like a clean copy to share with others