Educator stresses importance of parential involvement in the school system

By Lincoln DePradine

Michael Malcolm

Michael Malcolm credits his success as an educator to his Caribbean-born parents, who halted attempts that were made to stream him into specialized behavioural classes. Other parents also should act similarly on behalf of their children, Malcolm told participants at a workshop of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE).

“If you’re not a part of the process, as the parent, your child has the potential to fall between the gaps. The responsibility sits with the teachers and the guidance counsellors, but the push has to come from the parents,’’ Malcolm said.

ONABSE held its sixth annual “Provincial Conference & Career Fair’’  last week , guided by the theme, “Empowering Educational Excellence Through Equity’’.

The online event included a virtual career fair, more than 30 workshops, an awards’ presentation and numerous keynote speakers addressing  topics such as educational technology, student achievement, college and career readiness, mental health and wellbeing;and parent and community involvement.

Parents, whose children are in kindergarten to grade three, should place emphasis on the kids’ happiness and joy, Malcolm suggested.

He was one of the main presenters at the “parents and community members’’ forum, which was also was addressed by several other speakers.

Malcolm, 51, a former school principal, graduated from high school with honours and is  now employed with the Ontario ministry of education.

He  made it clear that he was addressing the workshop as a Black parent and not in his professional capacity as a student achievement officer of the education ministry.

“When you hear me speaking, don’t think that I’m speaking on behalf of the ministry of education. I’m speaking on behalf of a Black man, of Jamaican heritage who was raised in Scarborough, went through the public system myself and was requested to be in a behavioural class in Grade eight,’’ Malcolm said.

“I overcame that barrier because my mother was a strong West Indian woman – she still is – who didn’t put up with nothing. She stepped into the school to my grade eight teacher and said absolutely not – ‘my son would not be going to this specialized classroom setting; I would discipline him home at home’. I really want parents, who are out there, to recognize there wasn’t anything special about what my parents did; thousands of parents are doing that every single day.’’

Malcolm’s fellow presenters also emphasized the importance of parental involvement in the school system, including engaging teachers and principals and seeking office as school trustees.

“Trustee voices are important,’’ said Patrice Barnes, a school board trustee in Ajax. “When we, as a community, don’t pay attention to that role, we don’t have a voice at the table.’’

When you’re advocating for your children, Barnes advised, “the trustee is an important person’’ to have a conversation.”

Claudette Rutherford, co-founder of Parents of Black Children, applauded advocacy and activism by Black parents and the “monumental role’’ they have played “in achieving successful educational futures for their children’’.

“We should never really underestimate our collective influence as parents,’’ said Rutherford.

Sherren Grant, co-founder of Black Parents Support Group, recalled her experiences in  seeking an education for a son with autism.

“I had to learn early to advocate for my child and also to ensure that I was well equipped with the necessary information to do so. You have to have high expectations for your child,’’ said Grant.

“We need to recognize that just because your child has a disability, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that people would be more empathetic. Sadly, racist notions are there even for those with disabilities. Be involved to ensure that your child doesn’t become further marginalized due to the intersection of race and disability.’’

Dr George Dei

Every child ought to have a “champion’’, said  Valerie Williams, who is well known as a “parent educator’’.

“Take an active role in your child’s education,’’ said Williams. “Your child needs a champion and it’s always a good idea when that champion is the parent. For you to be the champion, though, you really do have to know your child very well and be involved in the school system and everything else that your child comes in contact with every day.’’

Monte Molepo, director of Parents for Diversity. recommended that parents should have ongoing conversations with their children and support them, and also must reach out to community organizations to find solidarity, including when fighting anti-Black racism at schools.

“We need to be proactive in our children’s education,’’ said Molepo, “Something that I found beneficial for my children, from a really young age, was reinforcing positive messages of being Black.’’

Parents, as Malcolm put it, must “be aware and be present’’ in their children’s journey through school.

“It’s important for you to have conversations with your principals; it’s important for you to have conversations with the superintendent and with your trustee and be a part of the school environment,’’ he said.

Malcolm urged parents to pay particular attention to how well their children are organized in completing school assignments while they’re in grades four to six.

Between the ages of 11 and 13, “build their confidence in their school’’ and “prepare their minds, their hearts and souls’’ in readiness “to hit grade nine running’’, said Malcolm.

Barriers exist in the school system, Malcolm admitted. However, he pointed to programs, including the ministry of education’s “Graduation Project for Black Students’’, which are available to help parents and their children.

 “It’s a successful project; I’ve been a part of that project for a year-and-a-half now,’’ Malcolm said.

Veteran educator Dr George Dei, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)  at the University of Toronto, and anti-racist researcher. was presented with an ONABSE “Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Education’’.

It was a “very special’’ honour, said Dei, because it’s his first lifetime award.

Dei, in brief remarks, appealed for a continuation of the mentoring of Black youth. “We need to carry it forward,’’ he said. “We have a responsibility to mentor younger generations.’’

Awards were presented to Dr Andrew B. Campbell, an OISE lecturer, and  university student Janae Knott.

Campbell received a “Champion Educator Award of Excellence’’ and Knott was the recipient of a “Post-Secondary Student Award of Excellence’’.