2021 Black History Month honors the African American family

First celebrated in 1926, February has marked a time to commemorate and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans for nearly a century. The Black History Month 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity,” explores the African diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States.

In 2014, Ebony magazine and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation conducted the “Survey of the African American Family,” which included answers from a national sample of 1,005 African American respondents on issues related to income, housing, health care, relationships, race and education. A major education-related reveal was that Black parents/guardians saw “lack of parental involvement” as a major issue in the quality of their students’ education, along with funding disparities among school districts and quality of teachers.

Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and California’s Local Control Funding Formula, parent stakeholder engagement is required. A 2017 academic paper “African American Parents and Effective Parent Involvement Programs” examines what effective parent involvement entails, particularly for the African American community. Research shows that individuals who experiences acts of racial discrimination are more likely to experience lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression and behavior problems, which all affect academic achievement.

The paper finds that the usual notions of parent involvement, such as volunteering in schools, do not resonate with many Black parents/guardians, who report wanting more meaningful involvement opportunities. It also cautions against “school-centric” programs in which school/district personnel determine what parent involvement is based on the school’s norms, as many African American parents/guardians report “feelings of isolation, alienation, disengagement, and an array of other negative feelings pertaining to interactions with staff at their children’s schools.”

The paper’s authors write that a successful African American parent involvement program should emphasize the positive role that Black racial identity brings to both parents and students. A key element in working with an African American parent involvement group is the development of effective working relationships between parents, staff and community partners. “For maximum effectiveness, the meanings and functions of parent involvement must be perceived similarly and compatibly by school personnel, parents and community members,” write the authors.

Recognizing that parent/family involvement plays a vital role in fostering student success, districts throughout California have implemented African American parent advisory committees to work with parents to address the opportunity gaps experienced by Black children that have resulted in achievement gaps.

February is a good time to evaluate the ways your district checks in with and involves African American parents/guardians.

District examples

Districts around the state have created African American advisory committees to gather stakeholder input and work together with parents to close opportunity and achievement gaps. The following are examples from the southern, central and northern parts of the state.

Long Beach Unified School District: The Coalition of Involved African American Parents is for parents to support their students to be successful in school as well as in their communities. This distinct group of parents work as partners along with the district to make certain that their children meet high academic standards. To ensure that this occurs, the district provides African American parents with information, tools and skills that will empower parents to elevate achievement in their home, school and community. The coalition has numerous objectives: disseminate information relative to the objectives of district programs; provide training for parents to maximize their role as partners in education; access scholarships, financial aid, SAT/ACT preparation, college requirements, community resources and culturally relevant resources; network together in seeking higher academic progress for our children; learn and practice the “3 X’s of Raising Successful African American Students”: Expectations, Exposure, & Experiences; and  develop individualized plans of action that will lead to higher student achievement for African American students.

Bakersfield City School District: The motto of the District African American Advisory Council is Engaging, Equipping, and Empowering parents to advocate for the academic success of their children. The council’s mission is to strengthen the relationships and engage parents and guardians of African American students to support ongoing cultural competence among the school community as well as foster a welcoming environment for schools and families to positively increase learning outcomes socially, and in attendance and literacy. The DAAPAC works to develop resources that allow parents to more actively support the academic instruction their children receive and engage with educators and administrators in the Bakersfield City School District, and inform parent representatives so they can share the information back to their school sites.

San Francisco USD: With the slogan, “Black Minds Matter,” the mission of the district’s African American Parent Advisory Council is to provide a forum to hear the ideas of the San Francisco USD’s African American/Black families, and respond to those ideas by educating and informing parents of district resources, policies and programs. The goal is to empower the lives of all African American/Black children and families by providing the knowledge and skills necessary to advocate for a high-quality educational experience for their children. The AAPAC works to develop resources that allow families to more actively support the academic instruction their children receive and engage with educators and administrators in the San Francisco USD.