Students in the Urban Education Policy Program can apply for travel funding, allowing them to explore education conferences or attend meetings relevant to their internships. Current student Melissa Lovitz (UEP ’16) recently took advantage of this travel program, flying to Washington D.C. to attend ParentCamp USA, an “un-conference” opportunity for parents and teachers to come together and model the four core beliefs highlighted in the book “Beyond the Bakesale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships“.
Melissa was kind enough to share some of her thoughts and reflections on her experience at ParentCamp USA. Read her words below!
“As part of my internship at Achievement First in Rhode Island, I had the opportunity to attend the first ParentCamp USA at the U.S. Department of Education. Not only did I have an incredible time but I also learned a lot. What follows are three lessons I gained from my experience.
- Networking is essential
My first reaction following ParentCamp USA was “there was so much networking!” I quickly realized that relationships and connections are inexplicably valuable in this work. My favorite moments of the day were from the conversations I had and the individuals I met. I loved sharing insights, questions, and concerns. I also really appreciated hearing directly from parents about their experiences and ideas regarding family and community engagement. The ParentCamp USA space was designed so that everyone (researchers, students, nonprofit managers, parents, etc.) was considered important in the discussions and workshops. Therefore, it was easy to engage in meaningful exchanges. Over and over again I experienced moments when it “clicked” and I knew I was in the right field. I knew what I was talking about and felt confident participating. I was motivated by each person I met and by everything I was hearing and learning.
- Talking about parent engagement without parents is irresponsible
One of the most meaningful challenges I left ParentCamp USA grappling with is the question of whether parents are partners or simply puppets. Ideally, schools and families strive to achieve authentic partnerships based on trusting relationships and collaborations. However, in practice this is not always exhibited. More often, parent involvement is driven by the school’s terms rather than the families’. In this way, when parents’ voices and ideas are not aligned with the school’s ideas, parent involvement and participation is not always appreciated. Based on what we are learning in our UEP coursework and what I experienced at ParentCamp USA, effective, genuine family engagement cannot be achieved unless parents have equal status and importance in the school environment and their voices are acknowledged as critical in conversations about family engagement.
- Don’t underestimate the power of your “digital business card”
On the day of the event, #ParentCampUSA was the #2 trending hashtag on Twitter. In Co-Coordinator Dr. Joe Mazza’s opening remarks, Dr. Mazza urged ParentCamp USA attendees to participate in the “un-conference” online. He reminded us that networking is everywhere and explained the utility of each person’s “digital business card”. As we continue to live in a technologically consumed world, connections via social media can propel ideas forward and provide spaces to continue conversations well beyond the scope of a one-day event. While at first I was hesitant, because I was concerned I would be distracted, I did join the Twitter conversations and enjoyed seeing everyone’s thoughts and what they found important or valuable come up on the live feed throughout the day. This feature was especially influential for me during the closing session – a “smack down” designed to allow participants to share what they learned and their overall thoughts from the day.
ParentCamp USA inspired me to continue to learn about how to engage families, and to develop strategies that capitalize on the strengths and voices in each family and community.”
Thank you, Melissa!