Formulation of Comunitario PTAs

ARISE PTA Meeting 2011 - IIIThe Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is an independent, non-profit organization that is dedicated to assuring educational opportunity for every child. Our IDRA Family Leadership in Education Model began to take shape in the early 1980s. From the beginning, the approach honored the participants’ language and culture and focused on parent engagement in non-traditional ways. We worked with English learner parents who wanted their children to receive an excellent bilingual education and we have a long and rich history working with families of Title I schools across the country.

The concept of the Comunitario PTA evolved over time, particularly through IDRA’s strong relationship with ARISE (A Resource In Serving Equality) in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley because of their interest in developing family leadership in education, specifically among families that are poor, recent immigrants and whose home language is Spanish. The ARISE animadoras/promotoras (outreach workers) conduct weekly home visits with direct communication and a meaningful relationship with each family.

ARISE became the first Comunitario PTA in the nation. Several others have formed in South Texas. They are unique in that rather than being based in a school, they are based in grass-roots community organizations and they establish connections with the schools their children attend.

Here are some key ideas for replicating the South Texas Comunitario Approach:

  1. Identify a community organization, civic group or church that is willing to sponsor and organize a group of families in a specific community who want to have excellent public neighborhood schools for their children.
  2. A grass-roots organization that has real, ongoing and personal contact with families is ideal.
  3. Have a core group who are in touch with their neighbors and other families in the area that are interested in belonging to such an organization.
  4. Build community through personal home visits and one-on-one communication in the language of the community.
  5. Do not suggest electing officers or becoming a formal PTA until the group has been solidified and see themselves as a group.
  6. Bring together twenty adults who commit themselves to the organization and to the goal of excellent schools for all children.
  7. Facilitate a conversation to have the initial group to identify their vision and goals they have in common.
  8. Present the broad vision and goals of PTA and identify where there is congruence or overlap.
  9. When the group is ready, present the bare-bones community PTA requirements and start the formalizing: adopting bylaws, electing officers, etc.
  10. Contact the area, regional or state person that can facilitate the formalization of the group.
  11. Search for data sources on schools, preferably from a state education site

Caveats for this approach:

  1. Don’t start by trying to sell PTA to the initial group. Many of those we are approaching aren’t interested in the traditional mode of a campus-based organization and in the traditional functions of a PTA. You may mention that the ultimate goal is to form a community PTA but the group must emerge with its own vision, mission and goals around the focus of having all children having excellent neighborhood public schools.
  2. Don’t go for large numbers or speed of organization. Some excellent community PTAs have been formed that are regional or statewide and those have their own place and function. Our approach is not to seek quick membership from a broad group of individuals but rather to focus on a very specific neighborhood or section of a community and build personal connections.
  3. Mass media or online communications cannot replace ongoing authentic outreach and personal contact. The Comunitario PTA approach is given life and continuity through labor-intensive outreach but it rewards the community with continuity and emerging leadership from previously unengaged parents and families.

For more information, check out the following links:
IDRA Family Leadership in Education Model
PTA Comunitario Website
EBook: The PTA Comunitario Approach
Podcast: How to Start A PTA Comunitario

PTA Comunitarios: A Fresh Twist on Family Engagement

AurelioMontemayor12In the heart of south Texas, PTA participation among Hispanic families is thriving thanks to a process that respects everyone’s opinion, and makes a point of seeking out parents who have been previously excluded or underserved.

PTA Comunitarios have been successful in gathering family leaders in Texas’ poorest communities. Developed by the Intercultrual Development Research Association, the comunitario approach is an innovation for parent organizations and also for school-family-community collaborations. Instead of being school-based, the roots are in ‘colonias’, unincorporated communities, in south Texas. Yet it is probably very close to the intentions and actions of the founders of PTA over a hundred years ago.

Community-based organizations sponsor and collaborate with schools to establish and maintain PTA Comunitarios. Collaboration includes co-planning, sharing in responsibilities for outreach and conducting ongoing activities to improve education in their neighborhood public schools. Connections are established with schools attended by the children of the members although the PTA Comunitario keeps an independent and separate identity.

Meetings and activities are conducted primarily in Spanish. Educational information is simplified and translated but not dumbed-down. Families are addressed as intelligent, capable and wanting the very best education for their children. The idea that parents don’t care about education is a myth. When families are treated with dignity and respect, they become the strongest long-term advocates for a quality public education for all children.

In PTA Comunitarios, family leadership in education takes the place of traditional parent volunteerism and fundraising. Family leaders in marginalized neighborhoods examine data on how their own children, and children across the region, are doing and partner with their schools to expand educational opportunity.

The organization follows the essential elements of establishing a formal PTA, and it elects officers who hold monthly membership meetings and pay the required dues. Leaders are elected from the participating families regardless of formal education, class or language capabilities. The barebones PTA structure provides a framework, but doesn’t discourage parents who may be hesitant to get involved in a full-fledge parent-teacher group.

Meetings include public school educational information and actionable data that leads to projects carried out by the membership. IDRA developed ‘OurSchool’ an online bilingual data portal, that has served as a source for school transformation projects.

That first cohort of 35 families report that all of their children, mostly children learning English as a second language, who were in high school and scheduled to complete their studies, graduated and those of college age went on to higher education.

There are now 75 PTA Comunitario families working with leaders in one school district to monitor the academic success of their children and other neighborhood children. Based on this success, in late 2012, IDRA was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to expand development of the PTA Comunitario model in five communities in central and south Texas, through the i3 Initiative.

6 Key Characteristics of a PTA Comunitario:

  • Meetings are held in the language of the community participating.
  • Meetings are highly participatory and small group discussions are part of each session.
  • Projects and activities emerge from the actionable data presented.
  • Multiple opportunities for leadership are offered and many group tasks are taken on by English-learning individuals with limited formal education.
  • The PTA does not take on the needs and concerns of individual families but deals with issues and challenges that affect the whole community, the whole campus or that have significant impact on many students.
  • Intensive home-outreach and transportation networks are the life-blood of the group that help strengthen inter-family ties and also provide the support needed by families.

Aurelio M. Montemayor is a senior education associate for Intercultural Development Research Association. His career in education spans four decades and has included teaching at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. He currently serves on the National PTA Field Services Committee and served as a national PTA board member from 2006 – 2010.

‘If it’s thorny for me, what’s a PTA to do?’

Cultivating Hispanics takes lots of compassion and even more respect

AurelioMontemayor12The common umbrella term ‘Hispanic’ poses monsoon challenges. Imagine the term ‘English-speaking’ to cover the Belfast Irish, Montreal Canadians, Outback Australians and Lubbock Texans…for starters. When you scan the ‘Hispanic’ map, you will encounter an equally complex and dramatically varied landscape, including the Iberian Peninsula, northern Africa and the American continent.

I was reared on the Texas/Mexico border and am currently immersed in south Texas families and culture. I’m Chicano or Mexican American. My milieu also includes Mexicanos or Mexicans who just crossed over or who came with their parents over 30 years ago. Whether we’ve been here for five generations or yesterday, my spectrum includes socio-cultural and linguistic groupings it would take a sizable book to catalog.  I must be sensitive to many issues to be culturally competent in my south Texas backyard.

Competence challenge for me: As a ‘pocho’ (someone who should, but doesn’t, use ‘correct’ Spanish without mispronunciations, Anglicism’s or other indicia of acculturation to an English-dominant world) I’m challenged with the use of ‘correct’ or ‘acceptable’ Spanish. In my organization, we model the use of the language of the community: Spanish in many south Texas neighborhoods. At a recent state conference, a mother mentioned her discontent with the quality of the Spanish of her child’s bilingual class teacher. As an advocate for bilingual education, I also know that many Chicano bilingual teachers have courageously reclaimed their home language after suffering a school system’s attempts to erase it and replace it with English. So, I support a mother’s desire for an excellent bilingual education that models both languages but must also be compassionate for the “not-so-fluent-in-Spanish” teacher who wants the same thing. Wow! If it’s thorny for me, what’s a PTA to do?

Like schools, PTAs always have messages and information they want to give to families. Before attempting to sign up a Spanish-speaking family to PTA, consider the following:

  • Engage in two-way conversations: Value, nurture and support those of us who are the bridge builders and can navigate several cultural and linguistic contexts. Using professional translators and earphones only assists in giving messages to families in one direction without engagement and mutual understanding.
  • Show real concern for Hispanic children: Don’t be afraid to ask — What are your dreams, visions and hopes for your children? Why is education important? What do you expect from your children’s schools and are they measuring up to your expectations? And most importantly, PTA leaders have to listen deeply and compassionately, and not condescendingly.

I guess in the end, it’s all about respect. If you respect me, over time you will get to know my values, familial customs, and tastes in food, music and entertainment. You’ll see when and how I celebrate.  Nevertheless, your competence with me comes from your understanding that I want my children and all the other children from my neighborhood to get the best education possible. That’s more than enough even if we never break bread together.

Aurelio M. Montemayor is a senior education associate for Intercultural Development Research Association. His career in education spans four decades and has included teaching at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. He currently serves on the National PTA Field Services Committee and served as a national PTA board member from 2006 – 2010.