In March, Danielle Stewart joined the second class of YouCAN Advocates to develop a community organizing project that included parental empowerment programs for future planning in DeKalb County, Georgia, called College Prep and Connect Clinic. She sat down with 50CAN to share a look into how her work is progressing and what she’s learning in the field.

When I speak with parents who have attended my College Prep and Connect Clinic events, my goal is to create a space to hear their voices and opinions to inform better programming. Throughout DeKalb County, there’s a pervasive rumor that parents just don’t seem to care about their children’s education, and that they certainly do not want to participate in solution-oriented programs.

But what I’ve learned thus far in my work is that these rumors are just that—speculation dividing our community. Parents, schools and local businesses are operating independently, each assuming that the other group isn’t invested in the outcomes for our community’s students.

DeKalb County parents in particular struggle against this mentality. While PTA meetings provide an opportunity for parents to speak directly with schools, they are oftentimes made to feel that their voices and concerns only matter in that setting; not elsewhere in the community.

College Prep and Connect Clinic works to change that. I’m focusing on meeting families where they are in the midst of the college prep process and sharing resources available in the community. One key resource of the most important resources available are those local businesses and integrating the important role that local businesses can play in setting up these families for success.

When parents and local businesses connect, a whole world of possibilities opens up. Many local businesses in DeKalb County already provide scholarships and educational support. Other businesses which I have connected with are receptive to the possibilities and are enthusiastic to support such endeavors including work-study programs and other avenues for assisting students and their families as they transition into college and career.

Earlier this year,, I hosted a panel discussion for parents and families embarking on the college prep process. Speakers included a parent who had just recently navigated the college prep process, the President of Herzing University, representatives from local businesses and a high school administrator.

The panel discussion began with parents reflecting on where they were in the college prep process so that speakers could tailor their advice for each unique situation. The President of Herzing University gave insight to parents on what schools were looking for during the admissions process as well as general college information. Our featured local businesses spoke to parents about the educational supports their businesses offered, including scholarship opportunities. Parents were also able to ask questions and have one-on-one dialogues with each the panelists. Once their session ended, parents then reconnected with their children, who were working through a simultaneous panel on college prep supports with their own peers in the community.

Moving forward in the College Prep and Connect Clinic series, parents will be given additional toolkits and resources around various milestones and hurdles in the college prep and future planning processes. Most importantly, they will be woven into the fabric of an inclusive community—including other parents, schools and local businesses that can provide guidance and support on this journey.

The College Prep and Connect Clinic workshops are designed to support and prepare students and parents for the college experience. The workshops are produced by In School Spirit, an organization that is igniting the school spirit of students of color.

Danielle is the founder of In School Spirit and a member of the 2017 class of YouCAN Advocates.


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