In March, Danielle Stewart joined the second class of YouCAN Advocates to develop a community organizing project that included parental empowerment programs in DeKalb County, Georgia, called College Prep & 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.

This year, I kicked off my first Education Advocacy Awareness Month in various areas in DeKalb County by hosting a series of College Prep & Connect Clinic workshops. The goal was to create a community dialogue on college and career readiness and focus on solutions for educational issues  so that parents and students can make strides towards change together.

Over the course of Education Advocacy Awareness Month, I hosted a series of workshops to bring together concerned parents who were united by the reality—and frustration—of sending their children to failing schools with failing college and career readiness programs. At the workshops, I share with attendees how to use various methods and tools to work together as a community to advocate for the change they desire in their educational systems. I also let the students and parents choose topics for us to discuss so that we can problem-solve for real problems happening in their communities.

A common theme that we explore in the workshops is that the education issues that affect the community extend far beyond students who are not excelling academically. As one attendee shared, “schools have the resources; however, there is a major disconnect as to why parents are not taking advantage of them.” Another parent expressed that, “there is an overall lack of support in the value of education.”

The workshops also provide a time for parents to connect with local businesses who want to support both their customers and educational excellence in their own communities. The businesses attend the workshops not just to present on educational resources and tool in the county, but to listen to what the community needs are and how they can help provide a range of services from tutoring support to scholarships and tuition reimbursements.

After a workshop, a manager at one of the local DeKalb County businesses said that “being able to be a part of a College Prep workshop clinic gives us another avenue to reach the community and to show how much we care. Why wouldn’t we support such a project?”

Throughout Education Advocacy Awareness Month, we challenge community members to answer thought-provoking questions and push beyond their comfort zones in the relationships they have with their schools by completing activities like sharing their list of education expectations with their schools. More often than not, parents have a difficult time responding to these questions, as they are rarely asked their opinion. These questions typically lead students and parents to utilize their advocacy voice to express not only the issues that need to be addressed but solutions that they can be instrumental in implementing.

In committing to this ongoing dialogue during Education Advocacy Awareness Month, the greatest success is that parents are attracted to not just the workshops, but the resources and tools to empower themselves with their schools. Together with the opportunity to build a support system with likeminded individuals and local businesses, parents are making their voices heard and making a real difference in the schools in DeKalb County.

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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