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Free Workshops Aim To Connect South Side Parents With Local Schools

By Wendell Hutson | September 24, 2013 3:25pm
 A parents' workshop is set for Saturday at Kennedy-King College in Englewood.
Parent University
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ENGLEWOOD — A free "Parent University" workshop designed for those with children in Chicago Public Schools in Englewood, South Shore and Bronzeville is scheduled for Saturday.

The sixth such workshop by Chicago Public Schools, the goal is "to educate parents more about the school system and to inform them about things going on at their children's schools," said Brenda Bell, a facilitator for the Community Engagement Office at CPS.

Workshops will include safety, eating healthy and showing parents the best way to review report cards.

Arshele Stevens, interim president of Kennedy-King College and state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-IL) are among several speakers scheduled. The Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Apostolic Church of God, is the keynote speaker.

Parent University: Back-to-School & Moving Forward is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Great Hall at Kennedy-King College, 740 W. 63rd St.

Free, onsite childcare and parking at 62nd and Green Street will be available. A continental breakfast and a lunch created by Washburne Culinary Institute students is also being provided for parents thanks to a $30,000 donation by Hunter.

"Workshops like these are needed to help parents become advocates for their children," added Hunter, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor who grew up in the former Robert Taylor Homes public housing complex on the South Side. "That's why I donated money to the workshops."

There will also be free transportation to and from the event for parents living in South Shore and Bronzeville, said Bell, the school district's liaison with the Englewood Community Action Council.

Buses will depart at 8 a.m. from Mollison Elementary, 4415 S. Martin L. King Drive Jr.; Clayton Powell Academy, 7511 S. South Shore Drive; and Hendricks Elementary Community Academy, 4316 S. Princeton Ave. Buses will return parents to the schools.

After Saturday, the next workshop will be held Oct. 19 at George Corliss High School, 821 E. 103rd St.

A final workshop this year will be held at an undetermined South Shore location in December, according to Bell, who said three of her granddaughters graduated from CPS and a fourth is in her senior year at Morgan Park High School.

"So, if parents are not able to attend this Saturday there are two more workshops this year," added Bell, who estimated 80 parents at the last workshop at Woodson South Elementary School in May.

"There has been low attendance by Englewood and West Side parents at other meetings," she said. "Childcare and work schedules are sometimes an issue for parents."

But, then again, Bell said the mentality some parents have about school keeps them from being more involved.

"I can remember a parents' meeting [in Englewood] I attended two weeks ago dealing with the importance of enrolling children in prekindergarten," recalled Bell.  "And one parent said, 'If pre-K it is not mandatory, I don't have to do it.' That is the type of mentality some parents have about early education."

CPS closed dozens of underutilized schools this year, including many in Englewood.

"But it takes more than closing schools in challenged communities like Englewood or Austin to improve students' performance. It also takes parents being engaged in their child's schools, too," added Bell, who has lived in Auburn Gresham for 25 years.

Many of the schools closed were in black and Hispanic neighborhoods on the South and West Sides and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis described the closings as racist.

"When will we address the fact that rich white people think they know what's in the best interests of African-American and Latino children, no matter what their parents' income or education level?" Lewis said during a June 2013 luncheon presentation to the City Club of Chicago. "When will there be an honest conversation about poverty, racism and inequality that hinders the delivery of an education product in our school system?"

Bell disagreed. When schools are underperforming "it is racist to keep them open," she said.