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Parent University Celebrates End-of-Year Accomplishments

Parent U celebration Otienos Parent University of CHCCS, led by Carla Smith, hosted an end-of-year celebration at the Chapel Hill Public Library for participants and their families on the evening of June 4. More than 75 people gathered around decorated tables to hear parents read from their racial autobiographies and receive certificates for completing multi-week book studies. A light dinner and cupcakes provided the “icing on the cake.”

Smith formed two “book read” groups earlier this year; one group read “The Best of Enemies” by Osha Gray Davidson, subtitled “Race and Redemption in the New South.” The book offers portraits of two Durham residents, one white and one black, who formed an unlikely friendship. “As they were reading the book, parents decided they wanted to write their own racial autobiographies,” Smith said. Over many weeks they worked on their essays, and the collection has been self-published into an anthology called “Contact Theory.”

A second group of Spanish-speaking parents met regularly to discuss “La Bứsqueda de un Sueño” (A Dream Called Home) by Reyna Grande. Norma Centeno, a teaching assistant at Ephesus Elementary School, helped Smith recruit Latino parents and co-facilitated the group discussions. Their final project was the creation of their own anthology, called “Nuestras Voces” (Our Voices), translated into English by Centano, to accompany the Spanish text. They chose to tell the stories about their journeys to America from their homelands, and all of them focused on their hopes for their children’s futures. One mother wrote that every morning, she prays over her children before she sends them to school. Others described the pain of separation from their own sick and dying parents in different countries.

Parent U books In the “Nuestras Voces” group, parents created art projects representing turtles and the vision of biculturalism, carrying their stories on their backs. They embraced the motto, “No somos menos, somos mas!” or “We are not less. We are more!”

Centano wrote in the introduction to "Nuestras Voces," "When we started the book club for the Hispanic community of the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, I did not imagine that after reading our third book written by Reyna Grande, our small community of readers would become new friends and a beautiful support group where they would come to share part of their lives with us." She added in regards to Grande's statement that as an immigrant, she has a voice and wants to be heard, "This gave us the strength to create this book, where this group of extraordinary women without being writers also want to tell their story with their own voices, a part of them that many people do not know: the voice of the immigrants. Like Reyna Grande, they also want to be heard."

Alba Ventura, a parent participant, said of the celebration, “It was a very special event because the ladies from Parents University, for the first time they got to write their own book where they shared their own survival experiences with others. I think that was very emotional for everybody.”

Sheryl Candy Tennant, whose children attend Northside Elementary School and Culbreth Middle School, said, “The year end celebration of Parent University was a beautiful time of sharing and celebrating. This year's book, ‘The Best of Enemies,’ resonated with our group.  As mothers/women of many races, we joined together as we examined Ann and C.P.'s relationship watching ‘enemies’ move to friendship and understanding because of connection. We explored our own racial narratives. We grew, we connected, we learned....we worked hard to stay in an authentic space creating relationships and friendships. Parent University gave us an opportunity to connect. Our group is so grateful for Carla and her leadership! ”

Dianne Jackson serves as a mentor with Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate, and she participated in “The Best of Enemies” group.  "As a mentor, Parent University has afforded me the opportunity to foster a sense of community with other mentors and Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate parents. We convened in book clubs, forums, and workshops to strengthen our skills to serve as advocates for the marginalized students in the CHCCS district. The Book Reveal celebration was a wonderful example of BRMA staff's commitment to equity, excellence, and inclusion."

The final portion of the program highlighted the important contributions from the 12 Parent Ambassadors for 2018-2019. Parent Ambassadors serve as liaisons at their schools, working with staff to identify parent needs and interest, as well as communicate with parents about resources and opportunities at their schools. As noted on their CHCCS webpage, “Ultimately, their goal is to ensure that EVERY family is connected and actively engaged at the school, and to empower (and increase the presence of) parents of color as members of the school community.”

Ventura said, “Being a Parent Ambassador has been a good experience for me, and I feel good about it because I have had the opportunity to communicate with other parents and share information that sometimes they just don’t know because of their language. It feels good when you can help others and get parents involved in their children’s education.”

Parent U certificates Director of Title 1 and Community and Family Engagement, Roslyn Moffitt, said, “The Parent University Recognition was powerful. The readings of the participants gave voice to all segments of the population and allowed us to really hear one another and for a few moments, feel for each other."