A City Education: The Power of Staff-Parent Teams

Posted by Liz Warden

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In our A City Education series, two City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the achievement gap and ending the dropout crisis.

Eddie, a sixth grader in my after-school tutoring group, has plenty of energy, but convincing him to focus it can be a challenge. My teammate Charlotte works in Eddie's English and math classroom. He disrupts the learning atmosphere by constantly arguing with the teacher and fighting with other students. He's frequently kicked out of class. And of course, when he’s not in class, he’s not learning.

Charlotte saw that Eddie needed positive interactions with adults at Markham, so in February she encouraged him to join our after-school program, and he agreed. His behavior is less extreme than during school hours, but to keep him on task I have to sit directly next to him and watch him work through all his math problems. One day, we completed eight problems together—one of his biggest milestones of the year. "Go show Ms. Charlotte!" I told him, knowing she would be proud. Full of excitement, Eddie ran to find her.

Eddie's mother tries to be as active as she can in his life, but like many of our students' parents, she is a single mom with multiple children who works long hours to support her family. But with Charlotte’s help, she has become very involved in Eddie's schooling.

Charlotte wrote Eddie's mom a note describing his challenges after his first day in the after-school program. Charlotte also told his mom that she should feel free to call her any time to discuss his behavior. Later that evening, Charlotte got a call from Eddie's mom. She wanted to know about everything that was happening in the classroom—she didn't know the full extent of his acting up because he is well-behaved and helpful at home.

Charlotte and his mom set up a plan where Charlotte would call her every afternoon during her work break—which, coincidentally, was Charlotte's break too. Every day, she would debrief Jesse's mom about his behavior. When his mom wasn't pleased, Eddie's Xbox would disappear. Now whenever Eddie acts up in class, Charlotte tells him that they're going to call his mom together and that he will have to tell her what he did in class today.

The relationship Charlotte built with Eddie's mother has helped. Instead of having only one good period a week, now Eddie has one or two good days a week. And when he comes to the after-school program, he knows it’s homework time and doesn't complain as much as he used to.

When Eddie has his good days, he knows he's doing the right thing. Charlotte and I will never forget the day he ran up to a group of City Year corps members at lunch to show them a paper he had signed by his two teachers because he earned satisfactory and outstanding marks. All of my teammates were proud of him and excited for him to bring it home to his mom later that day.

A faculty member recently told Charlotte it's amazing to see someone successfully work with Eddie because he is infamous at the school for being a troublemaker. Because of the trust Charlotte built with Eddie in the beginning of the year and now with his mom, he is slowly but surely becoming a better student.

Photo courtesy of City Year Los Angeles