NEAR WEST SIDE — When Camille Finklea was in seventh grade, she recalls her teachers being impressed she could third-grade work.
"[They were] very impressed that I could do third grade work, but at the same time, I had to realize I was also in a class with other kids who didn't know how to read," she said. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, how stupid do they think we are?'"
On Saturday, Finklea received a diploma that won't send her to college or land a higher-paying job. Instead, the mother of two students at Chicago International Charter School was holding proof of her investment in her sons' education.
"I wasn't given a map to know what to do for my kids," she said. "I had to make sure I was volunteering in the classroom and finding out what to do and make sure [her sons] never had to" endure the humiliation she once did.
Finklea is one of about 130 parents who received recognition Saturday at Noble Chicago Bulls Prep Academy for completing a 10-week program giving parents the tools to help their children succeed in the classroom. The program, Stand University for Parents - or Stand UP - taught parents from six elementary schools across the city, said Deborah Black, the program's family engagement coach.
"These parents, some are homeless, some were just coming out of incarceration, some were not sure where the next meal for their kids were going to come from, but they became empowered through this program," Black said. "Some have gone to school, some are now volunteering at school."
The 10-week course was designed to boost parents' self-esteem, while providing educational pieces to give parents the confidence to encourage their children.
Black said teaching these parents how to be involved helps schools increase attendance rates up and academic achievement.
"We teach actionable steps to parents, so that they can go back and then be an advocate for their child, an advocate for the school and an advocate for quality education," she said. "It’s not a parenting course. It teaches how to support education, so that your children can excel."
Marlon Gosa saw failing schools in his neighborhood and knew he needed to get involved for his children's sake. The New City resident heard about Stand University for Parents from a friend and decided it would be a great way to invest in his children's education.
"I just wanted change in the neighborhood, change in the school system... We talked about it and I became a member, I went to the classes and I liked it," Gosa said. "We learned how to engage with the children and [connect] with the principal of the school."
Gosa, who has four kids at Sherman School of Excellence, 6020 South Langley Avenue in Woodlawn, said one of the most beneficial moments for parents was learning about how curricula are determined.
"Some of the parents didn’t know; they thought the teachers just made up the stuff on their own. They didn’t know they had an actual lesson plan," Gosa said.
All parents should go through the program, he said.
"We got 400 kids [at Sherman]. We should 400 parents here. With all the mishaps and things going on in our neighborhood, you need more parents to come out and just get involved," he said.
"I think it’s something every school should have because a lot of the parents out here they just don’t know. They’re so disengaged with the school system," Gosa said. "I don’t think it’s because they don’t want to be, but it’s because they don’t know how."